Memory has always fascinated me. Why do I remember some things and forget others?
Whenever I hear “Bring Flowers of the Rarest”* from Queen of the May, I’m transported back in time to my nine-year-old self, wearing my white communion dress and walking in procession down the aisle of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in San Francisco. The sun is shining, a cool breeze is blowing in from the ocean and my family is watching. I’m worried if the dress is too short because my Mom told me this is the last year I could wear it, as I’d grown so tall.
Why do I remember this scene so clearly, but can’t recall much else about that year? And though I was in that same procession every year I was in grammar school, I hardly remember the other ones.
When my grandson was first learning to drive, his parents sent him to a Drivers’ Ed class. Just hearing about it brought back the memory of my first accident.
Our house was on a flat, dead end street and the blue Kaiser was parked in front. I wanted to practice putting in the clutch and shifting the gears. I didn’t have the keys because I hadn’t gotten to the actual driving part of the class yet.
After mentally rehearsing what I was going to do, I released the parking brake, put the car in neutral and got ready to shift into first. The car suddenly rolled back a few feet and hit the car behind. My first car accident and I hadn’t even turned the ignition on!
I hadn’t thought about this in YEARS! Yet, in that moment I remembered every detail as if it was happening right now.
This is what has always fascinated me about memory. A song, a chance comment by someone, and I’m in a movie of my own life, remembering everything. But other times, when I try to remember, I can’t.
Recently I heard of an adult education class on memory. I immediately signed up. The required reading, before class starts, is White Gloves: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory** by John Kotre. I just finished reading it.
Fascinating book! He talks a lot about how memory works and the different types of memory. I was surprised to find out that over time, we can change our memories. This is why different people, present at the same event, can recall the situation very differently. That’s why eye-witnesses in court cases can be so unreliable.
Class starts Tuesday!!!
*Bring Flowers of the Rarest is a well-known Marian hymn written by Mary E. Walsh. It was published as the “Crowning Hymn” in the Wreath of Mary 1871/1883 and later in St. Basil’s hymnal (1889).
**White Gloves: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory by John Kotre, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 1996