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Thanks for the Memories

We all have memories. A photo, a trinket or maybe even a scar can trigger them. Some are good, some not. What is baffling is how some memories of an event remain clear years later; while others are forgotten soon after they’ve occurred.

What then, makes a memory stick? Joyous occasions, like weddings and graduations? Or a personal traumatic event? Or perhaps moments that change the course of history. Everyone remembers where he or she was on 9/11. But why aren’t those little moments in between the big ones remembered? Do they not count if we don’t remember them? Is that why we’re posting every mundane moment online instead of actually appreciating the moment in the moment?

If it takes lots of memories to build our life’s journey, what about those bumper stickers telling us, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you’re still re-reading the last one” or “Don’t look back you’re not going that way”? Should we forget everything from our past? Or just weed out the bad chunks, like a divorce or when a loved one dies? And if we’re really cleaning house, what about those painful memories lingering from high school that still trigger raw emotions and awkward dreams?

Perhaps those maxims are actually telling us not to forget the bad times, but to let go of the resentments attached to them. Maybe that’s the key to moving on. In the last four years I have spoken to thousands of people about my grandfather’s experiences in the Holocaust and every talk ends with the words, “We can never forget.” I didn’t live through that horrendous ordeal, but my grandfather, who’s going to be 94 in August, did. After losing his entire family and surviving indescribable treatment, what kept him forging ahead and becoming successful and starting anew, was not forgetting. His goal was to create a new family to replace all those he lost and prove life was still worth living. The pain of the past pushed him to live a full life and to give all that he could.

Memories make us who we are. But it’s how we remember those memories that make us who we are to become.

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