Memory can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be wonderful when it allows us to relive celebrations with loved ones, or recall rights of passage and successful moments in our lives. However, at other times it is a dark shadow that simply won’t stop haunting us.
Unwanted memories contained in the unpretentious form of haunting feelings often come to plague us in the midst of our attempts to live our lives. Sometimes inexplicable sadness will creep up on us, and we won’t even know why we are sad.
When springtime comes, I inevitably find myself experiencing not only the warm breezes of spring air blowing through my hair, but also the cool breeze of an unnamable sadness blowing through my heart. The sadness comes and goes, and I have spent years wondering why on earth I feel sad at a time when I know it’s common to feel happy. Where does the sadness come from? What does it mean?
I have remembered that when I was young, there came a springtime when I simply ceased to be “a child”. I felt older over night. I grew up. It sounds strange, but it happened. Then eventually another springtime came when we moved for the first time and I had to leave my friends. I remember the sadness I felt then, and the sadness I feel in the spring times of my adulthood is very similar. It is strange to me how memory holds on to sadness.
People struggle with inner tears and depression related to memories infinitely worse than the ones mentioned above. But sadness and depression are only part of the pitiless games that memory can play. It has a few more tricks up its sleeve, such as triggering anxiety – or terror – using frightening memories from the past, or exacerbating a sense of guilt or shame.
Shame can be a horribly painful thing. Oftentimes it has to do with simply being different than people wanted us to be and therefore feeling unwanted because we didn’t meet people’s expectations. And guilt! Oh, guilt can tear us apart! It can be a good thing when it leads people to “turn their lives around”. However, too often our reaction to guilt is to turn in on ourselves, instead of getting help and searching for light and answers.
What about that other place memories often take our feelings? This is the emotion, the “feeling” that I hate the most: fear. Fear breaks us down from the inside out. It binds us and makes “safe” seem like a dream.
Fear is the name given to the feeling that occurs when we walk into a hospital room, wearing a hospital gown, for a procedure that is supposed to help with the pain…and as we do we are tormented by the memory of the last time we went into a hospital room, wearing a hospital gown to have a procedure done to help with the pain…and it made the pain worse. Sometimes memory is sheer torment. Its retellings lead to relivings that are cruel panic, agony, and even filth.
There are volumes that could be written about the horrific things that memory can be filled with. People can live through hells to which paper and ink shutter to bear witness. Memory has a way of drawing out the pain of these experiences and forcing victims to feel that pain again. Yet, in all this there is something we must remember: memory is about the past. No matter how sad, guilty or tormented we are, we are the living. Life is by its very nature about not only the past but also about the present and the future. We are not only our memories.
Because memory can be very powerful, it can be wise for the living to seek help dealing with their memories, if the pain those memories bring is intense. It is also wise for all the living to help each other, to “love your neighbor”. However painful our memories are, we are much better off facing them alongside of other people than we would be facing them alone. We need to find people around us who are ready to care enough about us to face life and living with us. And maybe, along with those people, we can make some new memories, some good memories.
As an “afterword” to this post, I will add another thought. It is true that it can be hard to find another person to whom we could talk about whatever it is that we are facing. Wherever we are though, there’s one Person who is always ready to listen to us. His name is Jesus. He listens to all those who will simply believe that he exists, that they need the healing that he offers, and that he will give it to them if they will only trust in him and ask. (This is mentioned more in the about section of this blog.) Jesus is a very good listener. He is also very good at speaking. He has written many words of comfort to his children. You can find them in the Bible. He is loving and kind. He is the very pattern of a good and trustworthy person, so if you need someone to talk to right now, in the silence of your heart, consider talking to him.