Scientists have proven that the human brain starts remembering in the womb. Really? That’s weird, because as hard as I try, my first memory comes when I was about four. I figure that’s okay since I probably didn’t learn anything I could use in a world where I wasn’t floating naked in fluid.
When we ring in a new year, many of us are more than eager to forget some or much of what happened to us in the prior year. Things like regret, loss, debt, guilt and grudges. Then there are the things we’d like to forget but can’t seem to get out of our heads; like the fiscal cliff, massive hurricanes, Penn State, and try as I might to ignore them, Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo.
Still, it’s a fact that if we didn’t have our memories, we wouldn’t be left with much. Do our memories make it easier or more difficult for us to move on in our lives and achieve happiness?
I believe memory to be a built-in GPS; a tally of lessons and a reminder of what we did right, what we did wrong and what we should never had done in the first place.
I’ve also found it to be very kind. My memories of an unhealthy marriage are overcome with the moments of laughter, wonder and newness. It is only when I truly think about those years that I remember them for what they were; unhappy. When my mind wanders to the sadness that life has dealt me, my memory graciously spares me a clear recollection. For both ends of the spectrum, I am grateful.
If our memory is indeed a life guide, then why don’t we do better as we get older? Isn’t that where the phrase “Old enough to know better” comes from? And yet many of us don’t, know better, that is.
I don’t think the fault lies in the memory itself, but rather with our inability or unwillingness to let go of the emotion that accompanies it. Heartaches, love lost, un-kept promises, unvalued friendships, jobs we could have done better, and love we should have given more of, are just small samples of life’s would haves, could haves, and should haves.
If we can remember the memory without feeling the pain maybe we could move forward wiser, swifter and better. Easier said than done. But I would wager big money that every truly happy person you meet has been able to harness that level of learning from a memory; cherishing it without feeling its pain, anger or regret.
I’ve heard people say that they will never own a pet after having suffered the loss of one they cherished. The memory proves too painful. The cost of that decision is to never again have a pet that offers you warm companionship and unconditional love all the years of it’s life. I understand it, but I would never be willing to pay that price. Life and love is for the spending of it, the suffering through it and the emerging from it vanquished.
In my 59 years of life, I’ve learned that having a memory is perhaps the greatest thing my mind can give me. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I’d rather forget but way more things that I long to remember; the smell of my newborn baby as she was placed in my arms, my mother’s smile, Christmas morning, our new puppy, and the loving arms of the man of my dreams. When push comes to shove, if I have to remember the death of my father so that I may remember his laugh, then it is a price I willingly pay.
I have only recently discovered that my recollections, both good and bad, actually guide me in the direction I should be going. They also keep me safe in that place where I belong. That comforts me.
Despite the fact that our brains are so soft that they can be cut by a butter knife, they harness our most precious and valuable commodity, a life lived. They give us an instant replay of every tear, laugh, achievement, failure and of course our dreams and hopes for our future. Our memory is all we have to catalog our life.
Our only job is to simply live it.