I have been awash in memories for the past few weeks. One influence that has led to this circumstance was an article I read that reflected on this kind of question: When one loses one’s memory, does one lose one’s (sense of) self? This question remained foremost in my mind such that I was motivated to do some Internet research about that very question. While there are variations in scholars’, researchers’, and medical professionals’ positions on the place of memory, there would seem to be unanimity that memory is one of the core dimensions of personal identity.
I have had that confirmed in my own life in the past few weeks. One of my Jesuit contemporaries, whom I have not seen in many years, is gravely ill with cancer at the moment. As it turns out, many of us who were together in our early adulthood years as young Jesuits have reached out to our friend with prayers and good wishes although our life paths have diverged dramatically over the years. Almost universally, the sentiments expressed involve shared experiences, shared memories. Most of the experiences recounted are ones about which I had not given any thought for years, in fact had thought I had forgotten. Yet I had certainly not forgotten; the memories had a profoundly positive spiritual impact for me. Gratitude was at the core of my response. And now we are anxious to renew connections even more.
On a more global level the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has brought to mind and heart the central cultural and social memory for my baby boomer generation. For our students it is not a memory, it is at best history- and distant history at that. I did the math, and the Kennedy assassination is to our current students as the beginning of World War I was to people my age. Even the iconic and tragic events of September 11, 2011, occurred before almost all of our current students were born. How different are the perspectives on memories from generation to generation.
Another powerful personal experience of memory was a message I received recently from a former student. He in turn had recently connected with another of my former students at the same school. They reminisced about- among other things- yours truly. The details of those reminiscences are very meaningful and powerful for me. My friend concluded his message with the following sentiment: “It’s a small world isn’t it? Life’s circumstances conspire to produce memory snapshots that serve as a reminder of those special people who have richly blessed our lives, who seemingly have come and gone, but we now see have never left.” I cannot say it any better than that.
By their nature memories have staying power. If we are to be enriched for the long term by happy memories, we have to help create them. Here’s hoping that the Thanksgiving holiday will provide an opportunity for each reader to do just that.
Until next time…