Memories as we turn the calendar

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If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I am a nostalgic creature by nature. I often joke that I can get all soggy over the sandwich I had for lunch yesterday. I’ve been this way since I was a kid.

The turning of the calendar to a New Year only reinforces this trait.

In a piece for the November issue of Quest, a membership publication of the Unitarian Universalists, minister Mary Katherine Morn writes about themes of memory and hope.

Our memories serve to create and re-create us all the time. What are we, but this series of stories that we tell ourselves and these images that we conjure? Even our vision of the future is anchored in the stories and images we remember. And the present is some powerful spark, fueled by what we remember and what we imagine about the future.

I recently sat down with a dear friend of mine who enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy, starting with an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and including service as a officer and captain on destroyers during the Cold War. Over the year, his daughter sorted through his personal papers and assembled a series of albums centered on his career, and they evoke rich memories for him and tell compelling historical, human stories to me. The albums are among the keepsakes and remembrances of a good life.

Nevertheless, Minister Morn urges that memories both good and bad “can hold us back from living fully and well.” Dwelling upon “an idealized vision of our past” can cause us to overlook the gifts of the present. For example, sad is the life of the former high school football star stuck in the glories of touchdowns past, or the frustrated actress who lives in the moment of her one star turn decades ago.

By contrast, adds Morn, defining our present “by means of a memory of abuse or illness or some other terrible thing” will cause us to have a “fitful and troubled” sleep through the present. She adds that “(t)he challenge with memory is to hold it lightly, to avoid being trapped in the comfort or terror of it for too long.” For example, in my professional blog, Minding the Workplace, I often write about those who are dealing with memories of severe bullying and harassment at work. Post traumatic stress can cause people to rehash details of bad experiences over and again, undermining their ability to move forward.

Those who are not beset by long and sharp memories (especially you non-Cancerians!) may find it hard to relate to these observations. Consider it a partial blessing! For those of us whose memories stick around, here’s to finding and keeping a proper place for them.

And, while I’m at it, allow me to wish you a safe, healthy, and meaningful 2014!

2 responses

  1. Another thoughtful and interesting post! Here’s to using 2014 to make new memories about which to become nostalgic!

  2. As I’m working on a memoir covering 1965 (when I left home) to 1977 (when I left the country), I’ve been grappling with the issues of memory. In particular the Rashamon effect – when I remember an incident so clearly (an infrequent occurrence for me) and then the friend who was also involved remembers it so differently. Your approach here seems to me wonderfully measured. Happy New Year.

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