A few days ago I was asked a specific question about a meeting I attended in 2000. I explained exactly what happened in the meeting and was asked the follow-up question: “Was that really what happened?” I immediately answered: “Yes, that’s what I remembered.” Well, just because that’s what I remembered happening, is that really what happened?
Recently, I drove by the building that used to house my elementary school. It’s now used as a senior assisted-living facility. The building seems a lot smaller than I remember. Of course, it’s not unusual for a person to reflect on his childhood and not have correct memories of shapes and sizes experienced during that time. So, is my childhood memory reality?
My father died when I was five years-old. I remember very little of my father, but having stated that, I do think I vividly remember a few special times with him. One special incident, I often recall, is when I told my father that he couldn’t catch me, if I ran away from him. I then ran from him and he caught me after I had only run a few yards. I couldn’t believe how fast he was, for an older man (in his thirties:-). But, my Mom had told me that story over and over. Did I remember the incident or am I repeating something from my mother’s memory? Is my memory reality?
Last week, my wife and I went to a restaurant for dinner. I remember it was a Chinese restaurant. But, what did I have to eat that evening? Well, I know I had rice. :-) What else? I wasn’t sure, until I asked my wife. She immediately named everything we had. I remember, now that she has reminded me. Or, do I remember? Am I simply repeating what she remembered? Is my current memory reality? Is her memory reality?
So, why do I keep going back to my memory? How can I talk, think, or live without using my memory? But, is my talking, thinking, or living based on reality when I use by memory? Don’t I hold on to my memory because it defines me? For example, when I’m asked my thoughts about almost anything, I refer to what I know about it and then respond. What I know is often known through memory. Is that reality?
I think I know my wife very well. As I bring her to mind (she’s not here, with me, as I write this) and think about what I really know about her, do I have an accurate picture of her? Everything I’ve recalled about her is from my memory. When I describe her to someone else, it’s all from my point of view. Would she be described by her sister, who knows her well, as having the same likes, dislikes, personal traits, etc., that I declare she has? No! I’m really describing her based on my perspective. Everything in my description is relative. Is my memory, which depends upon my point of view, reality?
Considering everything I’ve written so far, it seems that I very seldom have contact with the real. At least, when I’m using my memory, the unreal appears to be the norm. My senses are constantly using my memory to determine what I’m seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing, and feeling. And, what I determine is based on my perspective. So, my memory depends on my point of view, but reality doesn’t depend on any point of view – it simply is.
Is memory reality? No! What is memory compared to reality? Memory is a story about reality from a point of view.
John Dewey wrote: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.” Perhaps, memory is more of what my heart desires and less of reality.