IN A PERPETUAL PRESENT
The Strange Case of the Woman Who Can’t Remember Her Past—Or Imagine Her Future
But she cannot for the life of her make up a story. She does not daydream. Her mind does not wander. This lack of imagination is common among amnesiacs. Most of us can visualize a beach scene on command, for example: We can picture lounging on a chair with a piña colada in hand, roaring waves, grains of sand between our toes. When McKinnon tries this mental exercise, she can visualize a hammock, maybe. “And then there’s probably a palm tree. As soon as, in my mind, I’d try to grab that palm tree, I lose the hammock.” She cannot fit the images together into a finished puzzle. She also cannot play chess, even though her husband plays often. “I can’t hold in my mind more than one move ahead.” In other words, not only does McKinnon lack a window into the past, she also lacks a window into the future.
McKinnon and I did a lot that day. We ate, we spoke, we walked around the mall. But of course, she doesn’t remember the details, nor does she seem to mind. While most of us experience life as a story of gain and loss, McKinnon exists always and only in her own denouement. There is no inciting incident. No conflict. And no anxious sense of momentum toward the finale. She achieves effortlessly what some people spend years striving for: She lives entirely in the present.
(image by Alma Haser)