I had a funny dream last week. I was in a room in my house (both house and room are not known to be in waking life, but it was clearly where I lived). The room was full of beautiful acoustic guitars, and they all belonged to me. They were all fabulously expensive. Some were unique, custom-built, others simply rare or antique. Some were opulent, with exquisite inlays and carvings, others elegantly plain and clean. I wandered through this room, hushed and awestruck, thinking, “I can’t believe these are all mine!”
I picked one up, and tenderly began to play. I formed a open G chord, and then moved that chord form up and down the neck: it was the only chord I knew. I was strumming a creditable 4/4 rhythm, but I couldn’t think of even one other single chord. “Hmm, I really thought I knew a few chords besides this one. Let’s see…uh…” I would contort my hand into what seemed like a “typical” chord configuration. Nope, I just kept making that same chord. “Maybe if I try a different guitar…” No luck. Still G. The funny thing about the dream was that instead of finding it nightmarish, I was, even as I dreamed, amused at my sudden and nearly complete amnesia.
A friend of mine died of brain cancer a few years ago. Leading up to his death, they performed a number of surgeries to try to remove the tumor. Because it was malignant, of course, there was no way to remove only the tumor. After awakening from one operation, he discovered quickly that he was no longer fluent in Mandarin. Gone, completely. This wasn’t like your high-school locker combination, or the procedure for transferring a call at a job you haven’t worked at for a decade. This was a language he’d studied for years; he’d travelled extensively and lived in China.
He laughed about it. He spun a whole Pythonesque comedy routine around it. But think of it: an entire, complex skill set, just excised, quite literally cut out of you. Can you imagine? I couldn’t either, until I had this dream. I only hope that if such a fate awaits me, I will face it as my friend did (and as I apparently did in the dreamtime): with equanimity and humor.