Memory: a mixed bag
August 22, 2010 by Bill
The book stores today are filled with books about “living in the NOW.” THIS IS IT. Today, this moment is all we really know. Yesterday is a cancelled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. There is some truth in this view. But, the problem is that memory is a house with thousands of rooms. Memories are deleted … destroyed … eroded … drowned … faded away … crowded out or allowed to stay for another day. Without memory there is no experience, which is nothing else than reiterated memory.
One of the miracles of the human mind is memory. Within one single mind, a person can fly from one decade to the next, or the past, one country to another … past to present to possible future. Memory is imagination and fantasy. It can be flooding our mind, and emotions, with precious and cherished times. To delete these or smother them could leave our lives grim and impoverished. To have these still in our minds to recover at will can make our “present”…our “now” moments, where we daily live, more enriching, more joyful, and put a smile on our faces.
I remember that little West Texas homestead of my mother’s parents where I spent all my summers through grade school and high school …and I smile as I remember my Grandpa Deaver as having white hair and a flowing, giant mustache, eating clabber and corn bread at breakfast. As his mustache filled, the clabber would start dripping back into the bowl. This brings my “now” moment into a happy focus and brightens my “now” moment into a happy smile.
It brings my “now” moment into a proud joy to remember the day at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas when the wings of a Marine Corps pilot were pinned on my chest by an Admiral wearing the Navy Cross for valor. The value of this moment in memory is immeasurably enhanced by the fact that it was given to me by men who had proven their valor in their country’s cause on many a well-fought field.
My life in the “now” moments of living my days lecturing and writing are enriched by the memory of the discipline to complete a Bachelor degree in Science and a Masters degree in Theology in graduate school followed by ten years of lecturing at the University level. The significance that gives to my present “now” days simply cannot be measured.
In my present “now” moments of writing for the Santa Barbara News-Press, my mind/brain memory is flooded with affection and gratitude for all the women editors who published my work during the 70s and 80s. Every newspaper publishing me during those years had women editors who made the decision. From Boise, Idaho to Flagstaff, Arizona to Everett, Washington and on through 18 papers. That memory will never become a “cancelled check” of the past.
The “living in the now” books are certainly not the whole story, or even the most accurate story.
In many cultures memory of the past is one of the most vital and significant teaching methods for the young. Almost all American Indian traditions include pouring into the minds of the young the valor, the bravery and the courage of the elders, as well as the wisdom. The “fathers and grandfathers” as well as the “mothers and grandmothers” and their significance are passed on to the young as a constant reminder for their own true path. Roman mothers would instruct their children in rooms with the busts of the noble and wise leaders everywhere in the room looking at the young students. Living only in the “now,” without the benefit of remembering the wisdom and experience of the past generations, would be looked upon in many cultures with contempt and disbelief.
It is easy to get discouraged in our present time when we look around at the violence in the world…the evil… of wars and corruption, but it was so eloquently put in perspective for me by the historian, Will Durant in his book The Lessons of History. ”Put in perspective the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horror. It becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind… wherein thousands of poets…artists…musicians…lovers and philosophers still live, still speak, still sing, still write, still carve, still teach. It is we who can put meaning into our lives that transcends death. And to our final breath let us be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother, and our lasting life.”
There is no past, no cancelled check that we can bring back to us. There is only an eternally new “now” that can build and create itself out of the best and most cherished elements of the past.
I will never forget a day at the University of Colorado, when I was doing Graduate work. I walked over to the library, and there, carved in stone over the doors, were these words:
‘TO HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF MAN’S PAST IS TO REMAIN A CHILD FOREVER”
Our task is to take the experiences of the past, combined with the rich and cherished moments of our own memory and create a more fulfilling and productive present.