Clementine: Joely? What if you stay this time?
Joel: I walked out the door. There's no memory left.
Clementine: Come back and make up a goodbye at least,
let's pretend we had one... Goodbye, Joel.
Joel: ...I love you...
Clementine: ...Meet me in Montauk...
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released in 2004, and I knew immediately I had to see this movie, if not because of the idiosyncratic storyline, then for the one-and-only quirky Carrey's performance. I've never been much of a futurism genre connoisseur, but I loved this thought-experiment-of-a-movie. It was unlike any other I'd seen; an unusual type of humanistic sci-fi that provoked existential questions about love and loss, joy and suffering, life and death. Yet, as neuroengineers and researchers uncover more about the mysteries of the brain, and more specifically memory storage, retrieval, and functioning, the possibility of selective erasure becomes more than some far-fetched fantasy. In fact, it may be that this option will become one of the great ethical concerns of 21st Century modern medicine. Some scientists certainly believe so.
Naturally, as I pondered those possibilities, I had to ask myself: Would I erase the memory of my beloved child if it meant I would not have to feel the pain of losing her? (I hear an ol' Garth Brooks song lurking around the corner...). It only took me seconds, perhaps nano, to emphatically answer no. I would not. Even amidst the pain and angst and despair, the gifts of her presence in my life- the love- make it all worthwhile.
But what about qualitatively (subjectively) less painful experiences, such as relationship losses? Would I erase those memories if I could? What lessons would be lessened? What experiences would I have missed due to fear of and anxiety over my own emotions? Certainly, during acute moments of sadness or grief, I may have wished for the path of ease - a short cut, circumvention around the pain - if the option had arisen. Or would I, given what I know now- and understand- about the importance of suffering as a means to wisdom and fulfillment and meaning? And had I not known the pain, what would have become of the compassion and empathy for others which I have developed through my own suffering?
Elie Wiesel said that 'whosoever survives the test, whatever it may be, must tell his story....that is his duty.' Within that duty, implicitly, is the necessity to help others who also fall into the darkness of the human experience. If no memory remained of our sufferings, how would we tell our story? Would our story really be our story at all?
What would you do? If you could engage in selective erasure, would you?