There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. – Josh Billings
Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us. ~Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest”
Memory is what informs us about our past. What we remember determines what we think about our past. But, our memories are not always reliable. Our emotions are most certainly less than reliable. I found that out this past week.
My high school experiences during my junior and senior years are confused. This was the time when, like a typical teenager, I was struggling with who I was and with the “meaning of life,” etc. As I have commented on other posts, my junior and senior years were the time when Martin Luther King was killed, the Battle of Khe Shan took place, Robert Kennedy was killed, the Woodstock festival took place, and so on. It added special issues to all those who were teenagers during those couple of years. Because the draft was still going on, teenagers were having to think about their future in that era. In passing, during World War II, teenagers had the same thoughts facing them. The difference was that in WWII, we were involved in a war that was strongly supported. During my high school years, we were involved in a “conflict” that was never declared to be a war and was strongly opposed by a significant part of the USA population.
I made some stupid decisions during my late high school years. I could explain to you many of the events that led to my stupid decisions. However, as an adult I realize that they would be self-serving explanations. The short story is that I made stupid decisions. And, they were not even particularly imaginative stupid decisions. They were the same decisions that were made by many other teenagers during that time. So, why am I writing this post?
Well, I just attended my high school reunion, my 45th. And, I found that my memories were inaccurate. I remember being on the outs with the “in” people. But, the head quarterback, a person whom I thought did not even remember me, remembered me by name. And, he remembered me as a nice guy. One of my classmates came up and related how she remembered being my Biology II lab partner, along with a fellow classmate. Other classmates had not even realized that I was abusing drugs during the final 18 months of my high school trajectory and the first year of college. Even one of the people who graduated from the college from which I had been expelled had not realized that I had been abusing drugs. So, if no one remembered what I considered to be crucial events, then what was my memory worth?
My memory is the memory typical to most “former” teenagers. It is not accurate. One of the most helpful things that has happened lately was my attendance at a high school reunion. I found out that my memories were not the memories that other people had. This does not mean that they were totally inaccurate. In the case of people who did not realize that I was abusing drugs, they were wrong. But, in the memories of those who remembered me as a valued part of my high school class, I will have to alter my memories.
I was asked to give the blessing before the beginning of the formal dinner at our reunion. Several people complimented me on the wording. And, I was totally flabbergasted. My memory said that I should have never had that place of honor in the class. There were more than one minister present. One of the other ministers had written five books. Unexpectedly, at the last minute, I was asked to give the blessing. And, that did not match with my memories. And, so, I have had to reevaluate my memories. Obviously, my memories are mistaken.
The word “closure” is overused. I do NOT feel a sense of closure in any sense, since I did not realize that there were open issues. But, this does reinforce what I already knew. Personal memories are not accurate. They are the representation of what our emotional filters allow us to perceive. I am overjoyed to find out that some of my memories were inaccurate. It casts my history in a new light. It is a light that I prefer to the light that I thought was accurate. It is a light that says that I was not whom I thought I was. As John Newton says:
I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be — I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”