On Memory



I've been thinking about memory lately, and I wanted to see if I could get my thoughts organized and coherent here.


Our personal memories are personally formative, correct? But then we also have joint memories that are jointly formative. I think more on a familial level as in family deep sea fishing trips gone awry (funny story from my family's adventures when I was a kid) or on a community level that could be as large as 9/11.

So to simplify, on my personal memories, driving myself to the beach without a map, formed a bit of independence and bravery in me.

And then from my familial memories: I am not a marine biologist because of my memories of my family's deep sea fishing experience. And then collectively, my family does not go deep sea fishing. (You can probably now imagine how horrifying that trip was.)

Now it's interesting to think of how this affects Jeremy's and my family. Because that experience is not shared with Jeremy. In fact, Jeremy loves deep sea fishing when he gets the chance. On our honeymoon in Hawaii, he wanted to go. I was not about to show him that side of me, so I stayed in the hotel while he went out for the morning. It was a good compromise.

So back to our family, our kids haven't ever been deep sea fishing yet, mostly because they are too young, and since I am not a deep sea fisher, they are currently not. But they could become so as they get older and leave my nest, so to speak, and join their Daddy on his adventures. Or they may be more like their mother and...not enjoy deep sea fishing trips.

Now let's talk a bit about 9/11, which is a large community or national memory. Every American alive on that day remembers the date, we mark it on our calendars, we talk about where we were, we pray for the families, and we also were formed as a nation by it. I'm thinking of simple things like airport security, to more complex things like the Iraqi War interpretations. So it marked us, formed us as a nation, which in turn also formed us individually.

These are just my lifetime's memories, but one of the lovely things about classical education is that it unites all of mankind, right? I mean, we become one humanity. So the events that happened in my lifetime affect my children, even though my kids weren't around yet. The same goes for my parents' lives, which affected my life, which affects my kids. And it keeps going back.

I don't personally have to memorize the date of 9/11 because it was seared into my mind and heart. But 9/11 is not the only date in history that has changed everything. There are other dates that people remembered and marked. D-Day (June 6, 1944) comes to mind. July 4th, 1776. 1620. 1492. 1066, 1054. These dates were remembered because they were like 9/11 to the people living then.

Sometimes memory work gets a bad rap because it's just dates and dead people. But those dates are markers, important in the collective memory of mankind's western culture. It's not a bad thing to mark the dates in our minds, I don't think.

Granted, context is key. Just knowing a random date is not enough. We must also know what happened on that date, but we really can't expect those who come after to understand fully what a certain date means. The generation coming up will know the date of 9/11 and probably remember our tears and sadness, but won't be able to connect with the actual event. Their connection will be through us. And just like our connections to certain dates grow thinner due to time stretching the links out, the generations coming after will not understand 9/11 either. My grandchildren will hear the first-hand telling of the story, but my great-grandchildren will only hear the retelling from my children. So without a few facts memorized, the date, some of the people, etc, the story might change to a story about me ("Your great-grandmother was in college and had no idea what was going on because she hadn't turned on the TV before going to class!" Or perhaps even worse, "It's September 11, your great-grandmother always cried on this day. Why? Oh, I don't remember.")

Perhaps we should think about memory work, or the memorizing of facts, as a passing down of remembrance. A heritage of sorts.

That's about as far as I've gotten in my thoughts so far. What do you think about memory?

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