Our memories make us, inform us, shape us. They can fill us with the warm glow of love given and returned, of special joys and experiences. They can also burden us with a sense of obligation or make us cringe with shame.
On a subconscious level, memories make our decisions for us.
And Memory Monday approaches — better known as Memorial Day. So, will we stop and remember?
Will we honor the memories of those upon whose lives we get to stand today? Unfortunately, I think these important memories are rapidly fading into oblivion like a Facebook “like” or a fleeting blog post. Many see this weekend only as just an extra, welcome day off, an opportunity to bring in shoppers, or a nice way to kick off summer relaxation time.
So we forget those names, those sacrifices. We become poorer for it, and lose the guiding power of those memories.
We reach into our memories to sort out and categorize the world around us. Although memories are often not factual witnesses to our experiences, we rightly trust them to help us discern who we may trust and who we may not trust. We rely on memories to navigate the world, to retrieve our passwords, to find the car keys, to recognize the voice of a loved one, and to engage in productive work.
We actually are the sum of our memories. One of the greatest tragedies is to lose all capacity to remember new information. Some with traumatic brain injuries suffer from this. Nothing sticks after the injury — even multiple repetitions of an experience or of an individual fade immediately into nothingness.
I heard during my graduate work a term I came to love: “cellular memories.” These are the memories we can’t always activate or access intentionally, but which have in some way imprinted themselves into our genetic code and are passed on from generation to generation. I suspect those cellular memories have a great deal to do with the fact that some people are adventurous — even to the point of real danger — and some are cautious — even to the point of nearly shutting off anything new.
Some memories hurt us. We have memories of mistreatment, of unwarranted anger or revenge, of simple evil rising to destroy. It’s difficult to let them go.
When I was actively pastoring, many stories of church memories came spilling out in my office or in random conversations.
The most heartbreaking ones were from people who just didn’t quite make the grade, or asked too many questions about things that were considered “unquestionable truths,” or were seen as the unwanted “other.”
I also heard glorious stories of children and youth being carefully nurtured, encouraged to grow and explore and ask questions and deal openly with their doubts and their challenges.
My calling to be a pastor meant that I knew that my words and actions were deeply imprinting themselves into the lives and memories of those who worshipped and served with me. This was especially so with the children whose parents wanted them to know the love of God early, and who trusted us to show them that very thing.
So, I rejoiced over every good memory and grieved every time I heard a bad memory of church life. I frequently asked myself how to encourage forgiveness without excusing what were often unspeakably bad actions.
I knew that without forgiveness, the difficult memories would continue to haunt, but forgiveness could set people free.
In time, I began to see that the reframing of our memories begins the freeing process. When we reframe, we do not forget, but instead rethink their impact and power.
So, in this weekend set aside to honor memories, let us honor how our memories shape us and consider those who came before. Then we, too, may go forth with courage to make life possible for the next generation.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at www.christythomas.com.