Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Psychology of Leaving and Taking Impressions

People in a café of Van Gogh's stylistic painting "Le café de nuit"
The Night Café by Vincent Van Gogh
Whenever I finish coffee in a café or dinner in a restaurant and get up to leave, I check back to see if I have left anything behind. Almost always, the answer is no. Yet I cannot shake off the feeling that something indeed has been left behind. It is not immediately apparent what it could be.

This sentiment also affects me when I am getting off the bus or train as the seat I just happened to occupy few moments ago suddenly looks so strangely empty. There I had been for a certain amount of time, both body and soul had shared their presence with the immobile non-sentient seat. The same could be applied to the café, restaurant or even a whole city. Whenever we leave, we leave something behind.

Whether we notice it or not, every place or event leaves an impression on us; at the same time, we take an impression with us. We call it memory, but it is actually much fuller than that. We take souvenirs that we hope entails the essence of the place and experience, but that is often not enough. Every departure seems a little like death. Whenever we go away, our previous life ends. It happens on a micro-scale in everyday life.

I am reminded of the belief that photographs steal your soul. I do not subscribe to it, but photographs are the most vivid manner to capture the moment and its impression. Because there we are in the present, younger, fuller, alive, and now we look at the photograph and we cannot possibly be at the same place at the same time again. All we are left with are memories that pale in comparison with their vague lacklustre remembrance.

Maybe what this means is that we are interacting with the world at any given moment. Every object and every place embraces us or we become enmeshed with it while we are there. And it gives so much in return as we take our impressions from it. It was the moment that experienced us. The café was filled with the atoms of our being and when we step out, a trace of our self, our shadow, still lingers on.

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