Friday, November 8, 2013
Misty water-colored memories
Earlier this week, I found myself pondering "memories". I was listening to a recording of a recent Brian Lehrer show in which Brian was inviting listeners to call in with their memories of "what was better 'back in the day'". The show, called "An Oral History of Nostalgia" successfully enticed listeners from age 19 to age 81 to call in. Many of the memories were clearly age-related (such as the octogenarian reminiscing about radio dramas). Others were a bit more surprising, such as a twenty-something wistfully recalling doing homework before the advent of easy computer searches.
All of the callers' memories prompted me to look back. Certainly I could remember all sorts of great things: trips taken, gifts received (and given), time spent with loved ones, "life birds" (i.e., the first time a bird-watcher sees an individual member of a species is a "life bird"), great meals, or memorable bike rides. In terms of this last category, I can recall almost every day and every mile of the 560+ miles I rode from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2005. What a FABULOUS trip! The scenery, the companions, the food, those on the side of the road who cheered us on,* the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment arriving in Los Angeles. But I can also remember numb hands from hours on the handlebars, VERY tight tendons in my shoulder and achilles, not to mention soreness in that place where my body met the bike's saddle. Yet, the former memories so far outweigh the latter that, given the chance, I'd do it again in an instant!
Memories, thus, are a mixed bag. The same situation or person, when called to remembrance can bring smiles or frowns. And, of course, there are many which evoke predominantly one emotion over the other. In my conversations with folks, I frequently hear about the negative memories . . . and how those are the formative recollections. With a bit of encouragement/coaxing, I can often tease out more positive memories. Sometimes, in the course of our conversation, I'll hear the other person reflect "I wonder why I'm intent on focusing on the negative, not the positive, memories?" Yes, why indeed?
Why is it that we shine such a strong light on so many negative memories from the past? Yes, there are events that are primarily negative, instances of a crime, for example, and I'm not wondering about those. I wonder about things that I recall that could "go either way", but I tend to travel down the negative road with them. Can I spend some time with the most significant of those negative memories and coax them out of their "misty water-colored" nature? Might I find, in so doing, some positive, redemptive core that won't necessarily change "the way I was", but might empower me to alter my future?
Our great religious traditions "redeem" the events of the past, even the negative ones: defeat, loss, exile, death. These religions celebrate the fact that, despite those awful events, the faithful have survived--because of their faith, their perspective on life.
Whatever happened, happened. How I choose to remember it, and thus how I choose to let the events of the past affect me is within my control. I would choose to create life-giving memories. L'chaim!
*I was riding the AIDS Life Cycle, raising money for AIDS research in California.