My one son has the memory of an elephant.
He can remember the details of events that happened when he was three, trips we took when he was four.
My other son — not so much.
He hardly remembers his best friends from America, and what he does remember is from stories we’ve told him and pictures we’ve shown.
We’ve fabricated most of his memories by sharing our own.
What I mean by that is, my son now claims to remember things I’m not sure he does.
He’s recounting stories of stories. Not stories about actual events in his memory.
Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist, claims that this is not unusual. That our memories are easily-manipulated.
Unintentionally, and intentionally.
In her recent Ted talk, she offers a firsthand account of working on a crime case gone horribly wrong.
A man was wrongly identified by his supposed victim and convicted of rape — purely on the testimony of a woman who claimed she remembered him doing it.
I’m conflicted by this.
On the one hand, I’m extremely uncomfortable that a person may be put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit simply because one or more people remembered seeing him at the crime — which apparently happens a lot (less so now that we can use DNA evidence). On the other hand,
I desperately want to be believed.
If it were me — If I remembered this man as the perpetrator of the crime against me — I’d better well be believed!
I want raped women to be believed.
I want children to be believed.
And, even when a crime hasn’t been committed against me, even when I have not been wronged, I want to believe in my memory.
I want to know that what I remember seeing and doing and feeling and hearing actually happened.
I am emotionally attached to my memory.
Most of the time.
And yet, intellectually I understand that my memory is nothing more than an ever-changing interpretation of an event or an experience.
I think about memory a lot — as a parent, as a child, as a wife, as a writer.
I am very conscious of making my children’s memories, for instance.
I am very conscious that no matter how hard I work to make them good, they might remember them bad.
It’s in these conscious moments that I have great compassion for my own parents.
It’s in these conscious moments that I feel frustrated, too — knowing that there is very little I can do to control or manipulate another person’s memory of me.
As a writer, I acknowledge that my memory is faulty, even though I happen to have one that’s particularly strong and sensitive to detail.
And yet, I honor my memory when I write. I let it lead me down dark hallways, and up vanilla-scented stairwells.
I let my memory pierce that outer wall of my heart so that I may feel love not just in the past but in the present.
We put ourselves at great risk by ascribing so much power to memory – -this is true — especially in situations where memory may put an innocent man in jail;
But if we don’t give so much power to memory; what then?
If we laugh at it; belittle it; if we judge it; doubt it; forget it …
What happens then?
Who are we without our memory?