A meditation on Memory, August 24, 2014
Unforgettable. Two candidate versions:
- Nina Simone.
- Aretha Franklin.
It’s the year 2100. Someone born in 2014 is now 86 years old. Electromagnetic Levitation Transporters have long since replaced airplanes as the preferred modes of transportation. ELTs are faster than airplanes used to be. Another thing that has changed since they were born is that people take off their clothes and their shoes before boarding an ELT. All this undressing before boarding takes almost as long as a levitation flight does. No one knows what would happen if people were allowed to just board an ELT without taking their clothes off — would the ELT fall out of the sky? — the reason we do this has long faded into memory.
The Attic Flew Out the Window, by Kent Bowker
So much in our lives is sent to the attic
a place for memories to decay, or hide,
the images of families, the nice, and the sick
in tea chests along with thin doilies and the pride
of handicraft, layered with daguerreotype
of stiff, remote relatives we never knew.
These are nothing to us now. It’s the living
we tried to bury in newer boxes, out of sight.
We sift through the unshuttered remains,
journals describing a shattered marriage, and lost children,
notes from friends and lovers
residues of a long life, class notes and skates, aluminum pans,
boxes of obtuse technical papers, all the useless receipts
and obligatory tax returns..
Rubbish Man simply flung it all
out the window.
For a moment the past flew by
descending, crashing to earth
three stories below
shattering attachments, and the voices
that roared out of the trunks
leaving cluttered floppy disks in the grass,
smashed glass- framed honoraria,
and all the things we thought would be useful some time,
records and board games, monopoly houses underfoot.
Did clearing the attic encumber us less,
take the voices from our heads
bring quiet to our gut?
This we don’t know,
charged a lot..
Today let this flame light the way as we walk in our unity and our differences down yet another street.
Joys and Concerns
I will note first that our gradually-slowing-brains may just be slowing because they are too full. And some speculation that the forgetfulness associated with ADHD may be due to an extraordinary memory (how contradictory is that?). Referencing Dan Gilbert (see references below), imagining a future is essential to growth and the more we hang on to memories of our past, the harder it becomes to imagine what can be and work to achieve it. Letting go is essential to getting unstuck. Maybe it’s not the past that’s holding us back, maybe our holding on to it is keeping us stuck?
The key in these cases is uncluttering that brain. Perhaps we should ask for regular tune-up for one’s mind. Perhaps we should be tending to the contents of our brain — specifically, our memories and our habits — as we do our gardens and our dwellings. Perhaps such “memory therapy” can also help PTSD victims and victims of other psychological trauma.
Again, reminder to self: this talk is about moving past the memories, about moving on. It’s relevant to us in the personal context (as suggested by Pema Chödrön). It is equally relevant to us in a broader context, as done by Nelson Mandela in instituting a National Reconciliation Day
There are many who did not understand that to heal we had to lance the boil. There are many who still do not understand that the obedient silence of the enslaved is not the reward of peace which is our due. There are some who cannot comprehend that the right to rebellion against tyranny is the very guarantee of the permanence of freedom.
Memory is pretty plastic anyway, and not very reliable. Better to live life mindful of its unfaithful and ephemeral nature.
- The Shenpa Syndrome
- The Importance of Forgetting
- Daniel Kahneman When we experience things, there are actually two observers: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The remembering self creates the narrative. The experiencing self does the experiencing and “forgets about it”. What is remembered wasn’t what was experienced.
- Daniel Gilbert. We have a natural tendency to remember things and this is a lot easier than imagining our future. But imagining a future is essential to growth and the more we hang on to our memories, the harder it becomes to imagine what can be and work to achieve it.
- The Right Direction: Releasing the Past and Getting Unstuck
- The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. …
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.” “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” …
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each others’ hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.