Do You Remember?
I've been thinking a lot about the function of memory lately. In fact, I lay awake last night for a while before drifting off to sleep, pondering how memories work and what purpose they serve.
You might be saying, "Duh! Memories serve the purpose of helping us not to forget the important moments in our lives." You'd be right, of course. But there's something more to them than just recollection.
To begin with, memories are flawed.
Our memories are our own versions of what happened in the past. They are colored with our biases and feelings, and all too often, they are distorted by our forgetfulness.
We tend to selectively remember moments from our past with ourselves as the protagonist. We are victims, heroes, innocent or guilty, all based on our version of the events.
It's not uncommon for family members to have intense arguments about some event from their shared history that they all remember differently.
Secondly, memories make meaning.
I mean here that remembering the past directly affects how we see ourselves in the present. This is neither good nor bad; it just is.
When something traumatic occurs, the way we remember it can quickly become a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Some of those stories last a lifetime. We all have those kinds of stories that are shaped by our memories.
Or when we experience an incredible moment of joy and elation, we often look back on it with rose-colored glasses.
We might need to remember the unintended results of our triumph on the trajectory of our lives, the effect it had on our relationships, and more. Because there are always unintended results.
This doesn't mean that reminiscing with friends or family about a shared past isn't a good thing and doesn't have any value. It does. Our stories are important to us, but they have a rightful place.
Author Willa Cather once wrote:
Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.
This statement accurately reflects how many of us feel when we recall the good moments in our lives. We idealize them to the point that they assume a reality that cannot be surpassed in how it makes us feel.
But what happens next can be harmful to us. When we dwell on an idealized past, we are tempted to want to stay there, which doesn't do us a lot of good in the present and doesn't give us much hope for the future.
Whenever you encounter someone who goes on about the "good old days," they seldom ask, "The good old days for who?"
They are also seldom aware that they are idealizing the past, painting a rosier picture of it, and seeking to find some comfort in what was because what is now is frightening them.
I find comfort in how Jesus urged his followers to live more fully present in the present. He knew that dwelling on our past wasn't a way forward.
He also exhorted his followers to seek God's kingdom in the world and surrender all of the rest of their worries, rear-view living and struggles with trust in God.
May our memories serve to guide us but not overtake us. May our memories give us joy as we remember what was good and peace as we remember what wasn't.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us, now and forever. Amen.