I emptied the cookie crumbs out of my coat pocket tonight. I have no idea how they got there.
The red-headed woman who raised me would have suggested I have a selective memory. She always seemed to think I remembered the things I wanted to remember and forgot the things which were less convenient to recall.
She was right.
It is a common human trait. I have related many memories which I have from my childhood and early adult years to you. My siblings, who quite possibly follow my late night ramblings simply as a form of self-protection, often tell me they don’t remember events exactly as I have relayed them to my readers. The interesting thing to me is that seldom do they disagree completely about whether an event occurred or not. We simply differ in our remembrance of the details involved.
I have delighted in reaching back through the years to pull a memory out of the darkness of decades past, only to find we can still learn from the foolishness of youth, or the disasters which have overtaken us, or even the errors we make in our relationships. Memories help us to keep strong ties with those we love, and to move on into the future, stronger and wiser for the experience.
This week, I read with dismay an article in a current science magazine. The article suggested that memories are unreliable. It even made the claim that science is on the verge of being able to erase and rewrite memories, as if this would be a good thing. The article cited examples of wartime atrocities and childhood abuse as justification for the necessity of such a radical act.
I am terrified at the possibility that this “Total Recall” world might actually become reality.
Do I understand that some memories are horrible? I do. Do I have some of these horrible memories myself–memories so awful, so graphic, that I sometimes wish they had never been part of my experience? I do. Would I be happy to have these memories erased from my mind, as if those events had never occurred in my life?
I would not!
Before going any further, let me say that I don’t want to get into a contest to see whose memories are harshest. I won’t try to prove I have more reason to wish my memories wiped away than anyone else, nor will I tell you mine are nothing but sunny and joyful recollections. Neither position would be true. There are people with images etched into their brains that I can’t imagine having. I wouldn’t dare to burden you with some of mine. That said, I cannot imagine having a single one of them removed from my consciousness forever.
Our experiences make us who we are today. Our memories inform us and teach us, helping us to become better people. They allow us to be sympathetic to people going through the same things and to be indignant about humans treating others in ways we know from experience are wrong and damaging.
Take away our memories and you take away our motivation, our responsibility even, to make this world a better place as we move through it. If the memories of everyone who lived through the Holocaust had been wiped clean of that horror to make their later years more comfortable, we wouldn’t know that we needed to be vigilant to see that it never happened again.
In effect, if you wipe out the memory of an event, it didn’t happen. As a consequence, it cannot be necessary to avoid its reoccurrence.
It is slightly apropos that I mentioned my mother when I talked about selective memory earlier. You see, she is one who has little by little lost her memories. I spoke with her some time ago about the house in which I grew up, her home for over thirty years. She has no memory of the place–cannot see it in her head at all. Many other memories have been lost to her, including the names of her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.
I grieve for her lost years. I am not alone in that grief.
Are there some memories she is better off without? Possibly. Is it preferable she have the bad memories, along with the good? Undoubtedly.
It is impossible to consider the possibility of having memories erased without at least momentarily considering some specific events I’d like to never recall again. I’d like to never see that lady’s face again as she died in the car wreck. I’d like to forget the cruelty of certain childhood bullies. I’d like to forget the pain on my father’s face as he sat and tried to talk about my run-in with the police.
But then again, no…
I don’t want to forget a single one of those occasions. Not one.
They are part of the fabric of my life, the integrity of who I am, if you will. Without every one of them, collectively, I would not be who I am, nor could I be of any use to others who are walking the path along with me.
And even as I write, I recall where the cookie crumbs came from. I’ll pay for them later with an extra mile or two of running. I’m still learning from the past, you see.
Good–Bad. They are all memories that I need and use every day of my life.
I’ll keep them, thanks.
“Memories are the key, not to the past, but to the future.”
(Corrie Ten Boom ~ Dutch Christian & Holocaust survivor ~ 1892-1983)
“You see George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?”
(Clarence in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” ~ Frank Capra, director ~ 1947)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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