What are memories?
Well, it’s complicated!
Memories are quite different from ‘memory’ though obviously there are links.
Memory is the ability to recall from an encoded message firmly embedded in the brain. Memories are those things which we recall and remember through the process of memorisation.
There’s short term memory, longer term memory; those who remember well and those who don’t. There are those who choose not to remember certain things because such memories are too painful or they wish to somehow veil reality from themselves and others.
Memories sometimes play tricks on us, apparently, where we think we remember something. Only we might have embellished that memory, and through constantly remembering the embellished version of an event it becomes a sham compared with the reality of a situation long since gone.
Memories are transient, and simultaneously constant. For a healthy human being, they are never far away, and yet sometimes we neglect the value of our memories and what we can learn about ourselves and others through memories.
Memories are an integral part of ourselves and in some ways demonstrate our model of intelligences extremely well. Naturally, memories are seen as something from the past and yet they are part of our present too, and sometimes we remember in the hope that something as beautiful as that memory might happen again in the future.
So how do we use our intelligences in relation to memories?
Intellectually, we rely on memory frequently; often without even realising we are doing so. The ability to recall spellings and the skills of writing are based on the ability to memorise, which is why some children find it difficult until they have learned how to remember, and some never manage it successfully. We remember facts to hypothesise and to consider alternative ways of thinking. Our thinking itself is memory based.
Instinctively, we use our memories too. There’s that old saying about bike-riding. Once you’ve learned how, you’ll never forget, apparently. It becomes instinctual. How does it become instinctual to ride a bike or drive a car? It happens through memories. We learn how to ride or drive and then it becomes ‘second nature’ – we do these things without consciously thinking about them.
What of our means of accessing memories? We need impetus to remember and our physical intelligence plays an integral role here. Remember that smell of freshly baked bread? Where does it take you when you think of it? Or seeing a photograph on a wall of a familiar place? Are your memories of that place or of the feelings associated with it?
Some people have memories associated with taste; sometimes they are completely illogical like my own bizarre memory of eating corned beef sandwiches. For no apparent reason, eating these sandwiches to this day transports me to a family outing to North Wales forty years ago.
And it’s the use of our senses that recalls the feeling, and gives us a sense of wonderment at the memories we hold within us. Remembering positive things gives us spiritual wellbeing, and we can transport ourselves into another world through our memories. This is part of our spiritual intelligence.
Memories are personal and are also shared. Part of who we are is what we can remember from past events, and how we use them in the now. We would find it difficult to be empathetic without memories to reinforce a feeling of understanding of what another human being might be feeling or experiencing. Memories therefore play a significant role in our ability to be socially intelligent.
Our memories shape what we want to do with our skills now. Our creativity and imagination comes partly from memories. These are aspects of personal intelligence.
So, memories are intelligent, if used appropriately and not distorted.
There was a brilliant programme on BBC1 this week, which made me think about a book that I used to share frequently with my children and my classes in school.
The very wonderful 85 year old June Brown (Dot Cotton in ‘Eastenders’) was contemplating a time when she might need caring for in her ‘old age’.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B1pbtmq2yE (non UK – thanks Gina)
What an amazing woman! She doesn’t want to be cared for and she doesn’t want other people to have to look after her, but she explored the possibility of being in a home with other people of her age (or even much younger) should the time come when she could not look after herself.
Throughout the programme she referred back to the relationship with her grandfather; it was very humbling and a wonderful reminder for those of us fortunate enough to have had a similarly special relationship with their own grandparents.
We would do well to remember our older generations and the countless things they have done to ensure we can live comfortably. The way that some of our older folk are treated is appalling; left there with their memories and hopes that they won’t just vanish into thin air through neglect.
It’s not intelligent to dismiss the older generations as having lived their lives, and are ready to be ignored and forgotten.
June Brown said that one of the causes of the neglect for older people might be the loss of the extended family in this country. People didn’t tend to travel far from their own homes a generation or so ago. If you were born in Yorkshire, you would probably end up living your life there, in the company of siblings, cousins, aunts and grandparents.
Older generations would have been an integral part of our lives, and caring for them within the family home was a simple expectation of gratitude for all that they had given.
Nowadays it isn’t that simple. In order for a child to care for an elderly parent, it might mean moving that parent hundreds of miles; away from all that is familiar, and away from all their friends.
In many cases, children do not have a close relationship with their grandparents. They are not a part of their everyday lives, which isn’t good for either generation. How are children going to learn all those wonderful things we learned from our grandparents without the regular contact with them? How are they going to know what it’s like to get old, and develop a sense of empathy?
How are we going to retain those memories if the younger generation don’t have an opportunity to gain an insight into the minds of their brilliant grandparents?
Children learn from adults and vice versa. Intergenerational living is important.
Which leads us to the conclusion of this blog post.
Stories are sometimes a substitute for learning through real experiences. They can also be a reiteration. Sometimes a little gem of a book appears to remind us of what we ought to do!
‘Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge’ is a brilliant book written by Mem Fox. A young lad lives next door to a retirement home. He befriends a variety of residents but his favourite person is Nancy because she has four names like him.
Only Nancy has lost her memory.
Wilfrid decides he wants to understand what a memory is and asks the residents, “What is a memory?”
A range of responses ensue; something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, something as precious as gold. Wilfrid then went searching for things in his house that related to everyone’s idea of memories, collected them in a basket and took them to Miss Nancy.
And of course, she started to remember. The warm freshly laid egg reminded her of tiny speckled eggs she had found in her aunt’s garden. Holding a seashell to her ear reminded her of going to the beach as a child. She touched Wilfrid’s grandfather’s medal and remembered her brother who had gone to war and never returned. She smiled at the puppet that reminded her of the one that she shared with her sister. She bounced the football and remembered the day she had met Wilfrid.
Were it so simple!
She revived her memory through sensory stimuli that transferred her into another world, and lifted her spirits. She remembered herself and her relationship with others; all because a young boy cared enough.
Memories are precious. They can be painful too. Who we are today is part of who we were yesterday, and our memories and the memories of others can serve us well to understand, maintain and develop our thoughts, imagination and values for the future.
In loving memory of dear parents and grandparents who have shared so much.
In hope that future and present parents and grandparents will never forget.
Look after memories. Look after those important people in your lives.