Thoughts on Memory

Life is sort of like a book. It happens page by page. As the characters in the book, we cannot know what is coming next. We do not know if the next page will contain some “dramatic irony” that will leave us flat on our faces. Will we experience some grand miracle that will solve all of our problems?

As I write this, it occurs to me that I’m in the middle of a page now. Will I live to read what I’m writing now? Will I actually post the blog for the world to see?

As I look back at my life, I see it as events (chunks of life), but they don’t feel like “events” when I am living them. It feels fluid. One thing leads to the next… the atmosphere… the Berlioz piece that is playing as I write this… the distracting thoughts going through my head…

Memory is a great gift. There are so many advantages to remembering over living the events. In my memory, (like reading a book) I can move forward and backward in time, examining each page and each scene. I can see how they built up to the climax and how everything came out in the end. Not so in the middle of living it. Sure, I can return to earlier events, but that’s not living; that is remembering, and it isn’t the same thing… even if I am remembering remembering :)

Although there are many advantages to remembering, memory misses the boat completely when it comes to emotions. To truly relive emotion would be to feel the emotion again. to feel afraid, to re-experience the self doubt as if you hadn’t already decided the thing that you were worried about. When we are in the moment, we feel the feeling of uncertainty because we don’t know what is coming. When we recall the event, we already know the end. We know the thing that we didn’t know that caused the anxiety. Now that we know we have nothing to fear, we cannot possibly remember the feeling accurately.

So remembering is wonderful, but it has to go hand in hand with living. If we don’t live, there won’t be anything to remember. If we live without reflecting and remembering, we waste our living. It is only in the remembering and reflecting that we can learn. And in the reflection, we learn. And from the learning, we grow.

I posted it :)

Believing my own lies

Did you ever almost remember a dream? I mean, you can’t quite remember what happened in the dream, but you remember the feelings you felt in the dream. I had that sort of thing happen just the other day…

I was driving home from work on I-77 in Charlotte. My carpool buddy, Mark and I were joking about the silly way they routed the intersection of I-77 and I-85. I jokingly suggested that maybe there were old munitions dumps that they had to avoid and that there might be live bomb shells there to this day. Ok, it wasn’t all that funny, but we were in a silly mood.

What is striking is that, when I said that, I immediately had a feeling that there were people buried beneath the road bed where we were driving. Feelings frequently do not make sense and these feelings really didn’t make sense! As bizarre as I knew it was, I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was that same feeling that I get when I almost remember a dream, but not quite. What was the dream about? When did I dream it? I couldn’t remember. It must not have been a dream after all.

The feeling was so strong that, as silly as the idea of dead people under the road bed was, I had to talk about it. So I started to describe the feelings to Mark (who was probably ready to tell me to pull over and let him out). As I was explaining that I didn’t know if it was a dream or not, the whole thing became clear…

I love to tell stories to my family. We frequently go to the Cracker Barrel restaurants where they have old advertisements and family photos on the walls. Many times while we are waiting for our food to come, someone will ask me to tell them about one of the pictures. I will invent names and whole lives for these images… sometimes I create relationships between folks in different pictures. So an old lady in one photo is the aunt of a little girl in a biscuit advertisement. I frequently get so caught up in the story myself that I’m sorry when the food comes. I want to know what happens too. It can be loads of fun!

Just a few weeks earlier, late on a Sunday night my lovely and I were driving home from our daughter’s home on I-77. (In fact it was the same stretch of highway that Mark and I were driving a few paragraphs ago). Suddenly, we were forced us to the far right lane by orange cones that road crews had put out closing three of the four lanes of the highway. Of course this bottleneck caused a bit of a traffic jam. It wasn’t much more than a minor nuisance.

Annoyed, My Lovely asked (rhetorically), “Why do they have to do this now? What are they doing, anyway?”

Unable to resist a great setup for a story, I told her that many years ago, before there were any super-highways through this region, there were other roads and highways. In fact there was another road that followed this very same route. Road construction can be extremely dangerous work, but back in those days, it was perilous. Many construction workers gave their lives to build that road. Unfortunately, they were dealing with business pressures to meet deadlines for getting the road and they couldn’t take the time to appropriately deal with the bodies of these workers. That meant they just buried them right there in the road bed and paved over their graves!

Recently someone had discovered that these graves were still under the road bed! Even though they had replaced that highway with the current I-77, no one knew about the graves at that time, so no one did anything about the bodies. Of course the government officials didn’t want the bad publicity that would come from such a revelation, so they decided that they should quietly exhume the bodies and move them to a cemetery for a proper burial. “Quietly” meant that they had to do it at a time when there wouldn’t be much traffic and also at night so people wouldn’t see what they are doing… and so no one would get the blame.

So that’s what they were up to on that Sunday night… or so I told My Lovely.

When I remembered the story, I could hardly tell Mark for laughing at myself. So that’s where those feelings were coming from! As outlandish as the story was I must have believed it, on some level of my unconscious! Maybe that is what makes old grandpa stories so engaging. They start believing them themselves. I guess I’m just getting ready to be a grandpa.

Iron sharpens Iron

Praise God for friends! I cannot do this journey through life alone. I need companions. I need others who are on the journey with me. I used to think that kind of talk was a copout. Now I see the wisdom in it.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another Proverbs 27:17

That is one of those Bible passages that sounds so poetic and spiritual. In reality, sharpening a knife with a steel is a violent process. It is a process of knocking off part of the knife. If knives could feel, I think it would hurt. In reality it is uncomfortable to “rub up against” others. But that’s how knives (and people) get sharpened.

I want to be sharpened! That means partnering with others who are moving towards the same destination. As I start this new year, I am going public with my desire to seek out relationships with others who will challenge me and help me press on to who God wants me to be. This blog is step one. John, I did it! Thank you for following up with me.