I’ve a bee in my bonnet, and I suspect it will take a few posts to get it out. I’ve been thinking a lot about memory lately. Not my own specifically, but Memory as an activity and concept. I think it’s important. In fact I’m more and more convinced that it is lies very close to the center of our humanity. To be human is to remember.
Now by memory I don’t mean the ability to regurgitate some sort of historical artifact, rather I mean the capacity to collect and connect the various events, things, people and relationships of our lives, and in connecting them, to give meaning to each. To remember is to spin a tale, create a web, and tell a story. It is to enmesh the thread of yesterday’s human experiences into the warp of today’s felt plot line.
Each day a million different orphans pass under our exploring fingertips, waiting to be named. We give meaning to each, and to the regressing thread that gave birth to each, by seeing and caring or rejecting. There was that particular instance when the smell of honeysuckle tapped us on our shoulder and interrupted our afternoon walk, or we might recall a singularly unexpected (or intensely anticipated) brushing of hands that sent waves of response deep into our belly, or maybe looking out of the car window as a particular day’s last, never-to-be-repeated-again sun’s ray caught our attention… we give meaning to each by pulling them into our awareness, and by swallowing them whole, making them part of the you and me that can only be understood by including all the “this” and “thats” which brought us to where and who we are.
We do this without effort. We attach significance to our car ride through thick traffic, the sharp glance of our boss, the first smell of cut grass on a spring evening, or our children’s innocent welcome home simply by allowing them to matter. To matter is to have meaning- at least to us. To feel the connection between traffic and look, lawn and child is to remember. It’s to wonder what sort of day this has been. Having a memory means being able to give an answer.
I don’t think memory is the servant of learning, either. At least not primarily. A child may work at her multiplication tables so that she can recall them at some future time, but people were meant to collect, connect and give meaning to experiences in order to offer them up in Eucharist. Remembering isn’t an academic activity; it’s a priestly one.
It seems to me that our society is at war with memory. The skirmishes are multiform: Every moment is self contained. Like an evening newscast, we go from ‘now this” to “now this” to “now this.” History is viewed as a cold collection of an infinite number of neutrally hard facts, and any experience can be purchased off the shelf, without any awareness of where it came from or how. “Real time” has no room for seasons. It’s measured in distinct and essentially unconnected seconds so that every interaction of life springs ex nihilo into our consciousness.We ponder few connections, because we get by without them. Life is no longer a community; it’s a Walmart.
This is nonsense, of course. Every person, every thing, every interpretation and enjoyment is tied to the one before…world without end. But we no longer see the interaction. We’re blind. We’ve forgotten. Instead of dining as a family on grandmother’s pot roast recipe- all served on heirloom plates, we scurry and fuel on vending machine products that come from we know not where….and saddest of all, believe we’re the better for it. How else can you explain a preference for canned biscuits, instant coffee or light beer except by appealing to a really hard amnesia producing crack on the head.
Anyway, I’ve a bunch of half-baked thoughts on Memory. I might trot a few of them out in hopes that they will congeal.