Whenever I happen to hear a piece of music that I used to listen to for a long stretch of time — be it a movie soundtrack or a song that I associated with my crush — everything comes back, torrentially so. The remnants of the old days become alive and kicking, kicking my heart the hardest: the scent, the sights, the ambience, the whole nine yards. Whenever I listen to this specific song in Vietnamese, I sorely miss my father and tears fill my eyes. This ability of music to trigger vivid memories can be attributed to our brain’s power of association. The more connections are made to a specific event, the more likely we store it permanently in our brain. Music is one of the strongest links because it has been incorporated into our DNA for millennia (The earliest known musical instruments date back 40,000 years!) Another strong link is provided by visual stimuli. I still remember managing to nail down a historical date or number in my history exams. The secret? I sort of recalled that it was printed somewhere in the top right corner of page 102. It’s spatial association.
So what happens when we meet old friends? We relive our old days, visiting our very own old self, or selves, in the process. With a group of friends, we can be reminded of events that (we think) no longer stay in our head. Together we are like the pieces of a whole puzzle, each helping one another illuminate parts of the past that have been shrouded by the inevitable fingers of time. Memories can fail us. We may remember something falsely or incompletely. We may even “remember” something that never actually happened. Really. Some ingenuous people were convinced by psychologists that they had committed crimes! But old friends won’t. The collective memory is effective against such fallibility. It’s true that individual memories can be very different from collective memories, but old facts are more likely to remain facts.
On such occasions, associations come with a profound impact. Our friends’s faces, voice, laughters, and their fossilized gestures invoke sundry remembrances, fond and bitter. “Good gracious, I used to be like that,” think I. When a friend brings to the table something pleasant that everyone else still remembers, we all rejoice in reminiscence. We laugh. Some genuine laughters once in a while. “Whoa, wait a minute guys, our first meeting was like 14 years ago,” said I, in a wedding party just a week ago. Come to think of it, 14 years ago, it was these people with whom I spent the bulk of my time, almost every day. Isn’t that something special? Seeing old friends really reminds me of how long I’ve traversed the territory of life, how much has changed, how much I have changed, and how much I have been changed. Each time I see my old friends, I am given a chance to pay a visit to earlier me’s, each different in its own time, each a point of departure for the next, and all of these me’s make me me today. Seeing old friends is a form of time travel, a kind less confusing than, say, that in Avengers Endgame. The world is lost and here we are, in this cocoon of isolated time dimension, chatting away.
Time surely has its corrosive effects on things, some reduced to nothingness. But the concatenation of nerve impulses allow me to, from time to time, remember a friend, some way back in primary school. I believe my friends do remember me, too, from time to time. I have this little conviction that every single person I meet in life, even for a fleeting moment, one way or another leaves an impact on my trajectory, a personal butterfly effect. These little impacts go a long way, nudging us here and there, and transform us. Yes our path diverges at some point, but hey, down the road, we will once again meet. Delighted as always.