I can remember it … just like it was yesterday. It’s a phrase I’ve heard hundreds of times and used many times myself. Memories do light the corners of our mind.
It’s hard for me to even hear the word “memories” without clearly recalling the hit song from Barbara Streisand’s movie The Way We Were.
Yes, I remember that movie just like it was yesterday!
There is no question that memories have an influence in our lives — regardless of when, where and how we remember them. The question becomes how much influence they should have and how reliable is our connection and recollection of specific memories.
I would suggest there are two kinds of memories: those of specific moments and those of a certain season of life or time in history. While there is some question as to how accurately we recall these memories, there is also the realization that we are actually recalling them from the way we are … not the way we were. Perspective can change everything.
As for how accurately we recall specific moments in our life, Malcolm Gladwell offers a compelling proposition in one episode of his podcast Revisionist History titled: Free Brian Williams. Gladwell delightfully proposes: honestly, not so well. He suggests that we not only encounter challenges recalling our everyday memories, but also struggle with the certainty of memories that Gladwell calls “flash points.” Flash points are the memories we put in the category of the kind of event where everyone claims to remember exactly where they were at the moment (e.g., assassinations, Shuttle disasters, or even 9/11).
While some memories are tragic, either personally or collectively, there are also those memories that are warm and fuzzy – those that can become addictively nostalgic.
In tossing around this idea of memories, a great friend pointed me to an interesting article noting back in the 17th Century that medical student Johannes Hofer defined nostalgia as a mental illness. The article notes that this view of nostalgia held into the 20th Century where it became known as “immigrant psychosis.” More recent studies seem to have tamed this perspective of nostalgia a great deal, noting that it can bring great comfort and even optimism.
It would seem that nostalgia, like many things, can be paradoxically both unreliable and valuable as we reminisce.
Up to a point.
Our memories can also be a misguiding reference point if not kept in perspective.
In my work on integrity, I often get the question: Where do you think our core values come from? Some suggest they come from our upbringing – parents, teachers, mentors as well as our circumstances and experiences in general. All of these make excellent data points to explore as we dig to our core. There is no question that each of these have had an influence – both as we experienced them and as we remember them. As we recall them, they can give us some perspective … as long as we keep them in perspective. They can best serve as valuable teachable moments if we properly treat them as such.
There is great wisdom tucked inside the lyrics of The Way We Were:
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
Not only does some history (intentionally or unintentionally) get re-written – it is important to remember that we are not the way we were as we recall it.
The lyrics go on to say:
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply to choose to forget
Maybe nostalgia is the delightfully sterilized version of our memories. Nostalgia may not be a mental illness, yet it can sure prove to be a debilitating roadblock to the future when it blindly holds you in the past as you try to discern in the present … a pathway to the future.
At the same time, we have been well-cautioned about being blind to history. Credit has been given to many for some version of this warning: Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
It would appear that recollection is important, yet nothing will replace our intentional discernment of the past in the present moment.
At the same time, great memories are made by grabbing a beer, a glass of wine, or a hot chocolate with marshmallows and sitting under a porch light any night with a great friend – simply sharing memories together. Somehow it seems to work like magic. And in my own experience can prove to be quite magical – the best I can remember!
How have memories served you well … or become a roadblock along the way? As always, I’d love for you to share your insights below!