Is accurate memory important? It seems important to me, probably for reasons related to circumstances of my childhood. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s with a severely impaired older brother. He is autistic, very low functioning and has never spoken. I’ve written several posts dedicated to memory itself (Memory, Seeds of Memory, I Really Have to Dig Out My Journals, Letting Go), and memory is just below the surface of many of my other posts.
I am so grateful that my mother follows my blog. She sent me a note to the effect that memory does not have to be accurate. “You’re not testifying in court,” she said. “You may find that your cherished memories did not really happen that way, but nevertheless they are still precious to you, even though your recollection is inaccurate,” she continued. Both she and my wife tell me that the present and the future are what matters. Agreed and agreed. (Thanks, Mom, I appreciate your insights and I hope you’ll continue to write; Thanks Joy. I always appreciate your input.)
Ok, let’s talk about the present. The present didn’t just drop out of the sky. Sequences of events lead up to what is ‘now’ (i.e., the present). Those events leading up to ‘now’ make up the past. Therefore, in a very real sense, the present depends on the past.
I always wanted to be a time traveler. I know I actually am, but I’m only traveling in one direction: toward the future. One of my ideas about the present depends on imagining that time is a river. If the ‘present’ is a ping-pong ball floating on the river, it will move forward inexorably. But, the direction of the ping-pong ball, even as it moves forward, depends on the currents in the river. Therefore, in my model, the future depends on the past.
I agree that I shouldn’t have to worry about whether my emotional memories are true or not. Mom says cherished memories are cherished memories, and that’s that. With the bad memories, she says, the job is to come to terms with them.
And the problem is…
I think my issue with memory and the past, is to understand the eddies and currents that brought me to the present and to develop some kind of rudder so I can direct myself to a future that is meaningful.
As I look back at the greeting cards, letters from friends I once had, old photographs and old journal entries, my memory does not seem to be in conflict. If anything, these memory aids serve to remind me of what I once knew rather than to correct erroneous memories.
That’s what I want: a presence in which I have confidence, based on appropriately processed memories; and to tack appropriately through the currents from my past to guide my future in the right direction.