“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those round about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences, when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide.”
– Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World
Whoah. There’s this story in the February National Geographic (Memories Can Be Altered in Mice. Are Humans next?) that has given me some pause for thought. Apparently neuroscientists have found a way to alter memories in mice – to get rid of old mice memories and create new mice memories. And… yikes?
I will not deny there are some memories that bring me pain. And, frankly, there are a LOT of memories that bring me embarrassment. And a few times I’ve caught myself wishing those memories could just go away. But those memories – the painful ones and the embarrassing ones, too – have taught me things that were important for me to learn. Those memories have helped guide the choices and decisions I make during the course of a day. How could I lose those memories and still keep the wisdom they brought?
There have been a few movies that have been built around the notion of memories being altered – Total Recall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Manchurian Candidate. But those were just fiction. Until now I’ve always been confident that – if I lost everything else – I’d always have my memories of loved ones and good times to help me get through the dark periods in life. As Fred Astaire sang to Ginger Rogers, I’ve always thought, “They can’t take that away from me.”
But the article in National Geographic is nudging me to go deeper in my thinking about memories and memory loss. It’s nudged me to not be so cavalier about my memories, and to ponder the nature of memories and our identity. Are our memories what give us our identity? Would we have different identities without memories? What would the world be like if no one HAD a memory?
As the daughter of a 100 year-old father who has been diagnosed with some memory problems, I’ve sometimes felt the need to give prayerful thought to the notion of memory loss. One passage that has been helpful to me can be found in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The author of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: “If delusion says, ‘I have lost my memory,’ contradict it. No faculty of Mind is lost. In Science, all being is eternal, spiritual, perfect, harmonious in every action. Let the perfect model be present in your thoughts instead of its demoralized opposite. This spiritualization of thought lets in the light, and brings the divine Mind, Life not death, into your consciousness.”
That passage can be found under the heading Immortal Memory. Which leads me to ponder this: Is there a difference between immortal memory and mortal memory? And, if so, what is it…?
I guess a mortal memory would be a memory that can die? And “immortal memory” is memory that’s eternal?
In his book, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond (a popular progressive Scottish minister of the 18th century) shares some of his thoughts on the things that are eternal, and the things that aren’t.
In I Corinthians 13 Paul writes,”Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away…”
In response to this Biblical passage, Drummond writes: “Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it ‘passeth away.’ There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but IT WILL NOT LAST.”
Drummond goes on to write, “The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the only immortal things are these: ‘Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.'”
So here’s what I’m thinking: The mortal memory may fade or be altered, but the love behind the memory – the love that went into making the memory – that stays. That’s an immortal memory.
Dad’s mortal memory isn’t as good as maybe it once was – but the immortal memory – the memory that holds Love – that’s still there. And I’m thinking that if I were to lose all my “mortal memories” – no one can take away the Love that was expressed in them and behind them and the foundation for them. You can’t take THAT away from me. (Imagine Fred Astaire singing here…) No, no, you can’t take that away from me.