They say that memory isn’t truth. I’ve read that when we recall something, we focus on the parts that are meaningful to us—what made us happy, sad, terrified, betrayed, loved—the important bit in that memory. Then the next time we think of it, we hone that focus as we remember again—a memory of a memory—and then again, and again. Until the memories that we visit over and over are bleached into a shape that we think we remember, not what really happened.
I cut my foot when I was about two. Sliced it right open on an oyster shell in the Chesapeake Bay. I know the story—my sister was holding me, we should have been wearing sneakers like mom warned us. I’ve been told it many times, and I still have a scar on my foot. But also, I remember it. I know I was only tiny but truth is it isn’t even my earliest memory. Granted the main thing I remember is sheer terror because the doctor was trying to put “the red stuff” (iodine) on the cut. They also say that heightened emotion makes something stick in your head. Regardless, according to that article, the memory isn’t necessarily true.
I don’t know how I feel about this. I mean if we are talking about those horrific grade school memories like the when I made my friend cry or the one time I had covered up my brownie dress with a robe at breakfast and then forgot and wore that to school and everyone laughed at me, well, I’d like to think that those aren’t nearly as bad as I remember them. But what about the memories that I cherish? Am I really to believe that those aren’t true? They feel a part of me–riding horses in the desert with my sister, cooking with my mother, holding my grandmother’s hand, sharing secrets with my best friend, first kisses—these feel true.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if they are or not. If we’re are really just polishing the emotional connection, then maybe that distilled memory is the important bit to remember. So that we can remind ourselves to think before we speak or enjoy every second we get to spend with those we love.
I like the sound of that. I’m gonna see how that works next time I wake at 3 AM and can’t stop thinking about the time I said that stupid comment in front of all those cool kids in high school. Ugh.