"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Along Memory Lane

By Micky Wolf

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they make us laugh or frown. In other instances, we would just as soon they never emerge into our consciousness. Equally interesting are the ways a memory may be triggered. Years ago, a mere couple of notes of certain pieces of classical music would be all it took to stir dark images and recollections mired in the murkiness of my own past.

Well into adult life, I resisted any reflection on most of my childhood. My father was an alcoholic and as the years progressed, the ominous fog that seemed to envelop his entire being became thicker. Not surprisingly, his behaviors devolved as well. He, along with the rest of the family, experienced the consequences of his choices. Eventually, he took his own life. I was barely twenty-one years old.

While being a kid in my family may have been a long way from living in the best of circumstances, I know now that God was present—which is not to say it didn’t take several years, some therapy, a loving and kind husband, the company of several dear friends, and a boatload of prayers to help me find healing and peace.

There is no easy way for most people to deal with pain, suffering, and woundedness. It also doesn’t matter much whether our broken places exist as a consequence of the actions of others or of the choices we ourselves have made. In fact, if you choose to spend too much time trying to pinpoint who and what to blame, you’ll likely end going around in circles, more miserable than ever.

Drawing on the courage to confront our memories can be a significant part of healing—which is why I like to suggest we “pause” along the lane rather than “go down it.” Making this distinction is important for at least four reasons.

1)  Memories become fuzzy within hours and days of the precipitating event. If the memory involves intense emotion, it is our natural inclination to allow space and time to soften the impact. On the other hand, day-to-day circumstances continue to add layers of new impressions or information which tend to affect the way we think and feel about the past, as well as the present.

There is much to be gained by allowing a memory of any sort to surface, but we also need to realize some aspects of our recollections are specifically relative to our state of being at the time of the original experience. Chronological age, along with our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual immaturity or maturity, all play a huge part in our perception of the event as it unfolded.

2)  Memories are subjective, given the presence of anyone else who may have shared the experience with us. Whether the past or the present moment, my sense of what is happening is particular to me. One need spend only a few minutes with a couple of children who get into a disagreement to know each person sees and feels something very different from the other.

The members of my family were often all in the same room when my father chose to drink and act out. As a five-year old, my perception of his yelling at my mother had a different feeling and reality than when I heard him raise his voice when I was fifteen. Conversations with others, after the fact, can provide insight and clarity that one person alone could not understand or was not aware of at the time. For that reason alone we need to respect what each person and memory-perspective contributes to the larger reality of the experience.

3)  Memories are mixtures of words, images, and emotions. If a first step is accepting our recollection of events is subjective, it is helpful to recognize a memory likely contains elements of good and bad, light and dark.

As long as I wanted to focus on my father as mostly an awful drunk, there would be next to no opportunity to ever appreciate how loving he could be. He never failed to bring home his full paycheck and hand it to mom; he spent long, hard, hours in our large garden so we could fill our fruit cellar for the winter; he taught me how to use a casting rod and took me fishing. I also learned how to use a variety of tools, gap spark plugs, and caulk storm windows, often exceeding even his standards for a job well done. (All handy skills, I might add, for the years my beloved and I owned our first fixer-upper of a home.) And the list goes on.

4)  Memories can provide a wealth of information and inspiration to help us become the person God has created us to be. Absolutely!—but not until we pause long enough to allow them to surface—and that includes the emotions and feelings which accompany them.

Many of us carry a fair share of unpleasant memories. At the same time, when we resist the gentle touch of the Spirit to heal these painful imprints on our being, we risk allowing them to minimize and diminish the importance and blessing of the joyful experiences of life. Left unattended, the imprints may become infected or assume larger than life proportions, too often to the detriment of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Healing occurs as we trust God to accompany us through recollection, and then, as we choose to let go. We need to be patient with ourselves, and with the process, however, we can gain great insight in a couple of ways: a) allowing a memory to emerge can motivate us to positive change and; b) stepping back to view the larger picture can help us better see our strengths and weaknesses, which may have developed, in part, because of those experiences.

Taking time to pause on memory lane may be one of the best choices you ever make in order to experience new peace and deeper contentment on the journey. And those are the kind of notes any of us can be thankful for and appreciate.

How do I feel about the accuracy of my memories, over time?

Can I accept that my perceptions are subjective, yet true for me?

Do I tend to define things as black or white? Why?

Am I open to allowing God to heal me of painful memories?

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