My friend Odd Steffen died a few days ago. It was a shock. He was wise and solid. I’d expected him to always be there.
A magical time.
Memories matter. When life is difficult or sad, we can draw on memories of good times. They help us to get through the troubled present, and nourish the hope that good times will return.
Memories do more than that. They give us an awareness of continuity. They build our sense of coherence, our identity, our ideas about who we are and where we belong.
Memories keep us connected with our past, with where we have come from in this unique life we are leading. These connections help us survive and flourish, and build for the future.
‘That’s all very well’ I hear you say, ‘if you’ve got a store of good memories to fall back on. But what if my memories are mainly bad ones?’
Sometimes memories can be cruel. The Russian writer Dostoevsky was haunted for years by the memory of the moment when he stood before the firing squad waiting his call for execution, before his reprieve was suddenly announced. Many people who suffer trauma in childhood find dark memories returning to haunt their lives and thoughts. Or maybe your memories are of failures, unrealised dreams, of things that might have been.
Fortunately, memories are not fixed. We can change them.
We can turn memories into sources of energy and hope. We can draw new implications from old memories, or expand them by adding in the experiences of others.
In his Intimate History of Humanity, Theodore Zeldin tells of his friend Olga who used her fearful memories of life as a political dissident as a stimulus to change – given the opportunities provided by glasnost and perestroika – into a life as a commercial statistician. This gives her financial security and the freedom to dress well, travel frequently and indulge her passion for Proust.