Things I Think About Thursday: Amnesia and Coffee

“My Mom had amnesia….” he said.

Photo by Kari Patterson
Photo by Kari Patterson

I had never seen him before.

And I had no idea that a stranger, having the courage to speak up and join our conversation, would effect my entire day.

I was talking to my beautiful barista friend, Anna, when he walked in and ordered a coffee. Anna and I were talking about the hypothetical question from last week.

The conversation turned to not being able to remember family or friends. Then I mentioned an amnesia study I had read years ago, in which patients would wake up from comas with amnesia and their preferences for music, books and lifestyle would completely change.  For instance:

  • There was a guy who was in a gang since he was 12, who loved hip hop and when he emerged from his coma, he was obsessed with Beethoven’s 7th Symphony that had been playing in the hospital, and he would tell everyone that classical was his favorite form of music.   When hip hop music was played he didn’t react or pay attention to it at all.
  • There was a guy who was married to his high school sweetheart, and when he woke up in the hospital, he had no memory of her.  Over the course of months, she would come to visit him, and he realized that they seemed to have nothing in common at all.  Try as he might, he couldn’t get a connection back with her.  They were two different people.

Many people with amnesia can’t remember the past, but also can’t imagine future events either.   They tend to not be affected by or aware of other people’s influences or judgements.

Which brings up 2 questions:
Question 1: In the case of the guy in the gang, did he like rap music before just because the people he looked up to liked it, or because his friends were all listening to it and it was easily accessible?

I remember that for me, I was first introduced to punk rock when I was about 10 and my uncle was dating a woman who had a daughter who was 7 years older than me. She would cut up shirts and re-do them with safety pins and zig-zag stitches by hand, she wore purple eyeliner and her dyed black hair sprouted wildly this way and that. I looked up to her because she had an attitude that screamed – I am creating my own life. I do what I want! When she played the Sex Pistols, I decided that was my favorite band in the world. It was nothing like I had ever heard before. But looking back, did I initially love them because someone I looked up to so much was so passionate about them and it rubbed off on me? Did I originally love them because the idea of rebellion, freedom and living wildly were associated with it?

I have no idea. I’ll never know. But they are still one of my favorite bands to this day.

Photo by Emilie Autumn.
Photo by Emilie Autumn.

Think about the music you love. How did you originally fall in love with it? Yes…because of the sound. But it’s more than that. Was there a moment in your life that made you love it, a person who you looked up to, a memory that was attached to a song?

Question 2: In the case of the guy who realized he had nothing in common with his long time wife and high school sweetheart, before his accident and he had full memory, were they staying together because it was convenient and they knew each other for so long? Did they stay together because they had all of this history even though they had both grown to become very different people?

Think about the friends that you’ve had for a long time. If you had amnesia, and didn’t remember any past history with them, would you still be connected now as people? Would you meet and instantly hit it off again, or not?
The stranger in the coffee shop shared with us how his Mom had changed after waking up from a coma with amnesia.

The part of his story that got me more than anything was that his Mom just started picking up musical instruments out of nowhere.

She fell in love with creating music and suddenly taught herself to play the flute, the dulcimer and the fiddle. She had no previous knowledge of how to. One day her daughter was practicing flute, and she was drawn to take the flute into her own hands and just go for it.

Because she had suffered from amnesia and couldn’t recall moments of her life, many things were brand new, and she was drawn to things she appreciated. She no longer had that self-censorship battle, that so many of us have.

She picked up playing those instruments without worrying that she would be bad at it, or that she didn’t have time to learn, or that she was too “old” to learn, or worrying what other people would think if she was playing it, or what she was going to do if she did learn it.

She didn’t ask herself why. She just did it.

Image by Laura Kok.
Image by Laura Kok.

And as this stranger sat down and told me the story of his Mom, I got tears in my eyes. An hour passed by and our coffee cups sat in front of us empty. All of us were moved by the story he had to share.

It changed my day.

There was freedom in his story. An idea of doing what our hearts tell us to do without our minds censoring us.

He also told the story about his Dad who had woken up from major surgery and decided life was too short to waste. His Dad cut his hours at work in half and took up playing the banjo because he had always loved bluegrass music.

Today, his Mom and Dad live in South Carolina playing the banjo and the fiddle in a band together – doing what they love.

With 15 days away from our Kickstarter launch for our film, Revolver, I’ve been feeling a wild mix of emotions ranging from excited to nervous – thinking of all the outcomes, of all the things that “could be”. I walked out of the coffee shop thinking of the lesson that his story gave me – to approach things without thinking about the past, and without thinking about the future.

Just going for what I love.
Full force
and full on.

And now I’m going to go do that.

Wherever you are in the world right now, I wish you the same thing.


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