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| Friday, September 18, 2020

“Our memories are gifts that show us life, even through the toughest times, is worth living.” -Chrissy Pinney 

Memories are the essence of our humanity. Sometimes beautiful, at other times painful. Sometimes unforgettable, at other times regrettable. Sometimes as clear as day, at other times blurred among each other…

For me, the memories I cherish have always made me feel closer to the people I love. These memories come in gentle reminders through my everyday habits and my singled-out favorites. Sunflowers are my favorite flower, Why? Because sunflowers remind me of simpler times; a time where I was six or seven years old, young and carefree … a time where my father would call me his sunflower. “How was your day, sunflower?” he would say as he walked through the door of our house at the end of a long day’s work. 

Behind my love for coffee is another memory: that of fleeting minutes ahead of busy day … that of fleeing minutes spent sharing breakfast with my parents every morning. All three of us enjoyed tasty warm coffee on early mornings. A coffee machine was a staple in our home. I vividly remember the smell of our favorite coffee blend, the sound of that machine. My love for coffee makes me feel connected to my parents and my home. 

London-based photographer Sandy Suffield really toyed with the idea of objects, memories and attachment as she took photos of people and the objects they hold dearest — stuffed animals, smuggled silver, decade-old birthday party decorations, etc. “Everyone has an object with a story. It’s not about its aesthetic or monetary value; it’s chiefly about the narrative wrapped up in the object,” Suffield writes, about her photographic project “Things & People.”

“Narratives such as a wall-hanging made from shirts of a late mother. Or a handwritten recipe book passed throughout a trio of sisters. Or saved party poppers from a twenty-something birthday celebration. They’re funny and coincidental and alive. But they’re ours, a collective society of material perspective.” 

In “Material Memories,” authored by Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Aynsley, each writer explores the way objects speak to us through the memories that we associate with them. In essence, objects are not “blank carriers onto which humans project prior psychic dramas, but rather, place crucial importance on the precise materials from which they are made, their social, economic and historic reasons for being, and the way that we interact with them through our senses.” 

Psychological research studies reveal that the retrosplenial cortex is the part of the brain that stores and recalls memories, all while integrating within them experienced sensations. 

The retrosplenial cortex is most associated with episodic memory formation — the kind of memory that is sequential and records events in our minds. Because the part of the brain that forms episodic memory is the same part that integrates sensations, memories often become associated with sensations. Whether the memory is good or bad, it will likely become triggered by that smell or sensation. 

Objects hold sentimental meaning when they are involved in important events in our lives. Our brains attach the memory of the event or the people involved to whatever object is centered in the event. This is how objects retain such sentimental value to us. The object is not only special for its ability to recall memories, but because of its attachment to the person to which it is associated. 

Suffield’s project, “Things & People,” perfectly demonstrates the concept of memory attachment to items and places. As Suffield puts it, “The intention is to demonstrate that things are meaningful; unsullied by judgments of being, at best, distracting clutter or, at worst, evidence of unbridled consumption.” The collection of objects with special meaning is something that all of humanity participates in, and it demonstrates the fascinating connection between our brains and our world.

Krista Akiki is a sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in Business Analytics. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel-lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she navigates college life and stands up for the issues she believes. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @kristalourdesakiki. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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