Flotsam and jetsam. Ever since I first heard these partner words I have been fond of them. Flotsam is defined as debris in the ocean that was not deliberately thrown overboard, often as the result of a shipwreck or accident. Jetsam describes debris that was deliberately thrown overboard by the crew of a ship in distress, most often to lighten the ship's load.
It is an easy jump of understanding to take these two terms and use them metaphorically in relation to human memory. As we live our lives we make potential memories every day. If we could remember everything our brains would overload and might possibly explode.
In reality it is of course impossible to remember everything so a continuous sifting process happens day by day, year by year. We seem to have no conscious ability to retain or discard memories. Our brains do it in spite of us.
I think of what floats upon the surface of our memory as the flotsam and jetsam of life. It's what remains when the vast bulk of potential memory sinks to the ocean floor.
Sometimes I wonder why I can remember this and not that. Why have so many key moments disappeared and yet I can vividly remember seemingly insignificant moments? I have often contemplated the strange process of remembering. Sometimes I think it's about signposting - in the sense that one's memory picks a range of symbolic scenes or fragments that point to who we really are as individuals - to our essential psychological being.
It can be interesting to compare our filtered memories of past events with someone else who was there at the time. When you get right down to the nitty gritty, you find that the other person's internal editing processes have left them with a very different picture from the one that floats on your own brain's surface.
In a lovely song, Barbra Streisand once sang:-
May be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply to choose to forget
But that's not how human memory works. We cannot guide the memory at will. Some things will float and maybe get cast up upon some shore but it is, I contend, a random process over which we have almost no control.