Memories Outlast the Failing Mind   1 comment

A couple of days ago I received the same one-line email from my dad about 20 minutes apart, the second with an apology in case he already sent it and forgot.  He turns 88 in September and this summer his short-term memory has started to lapse appreciably.  As his memory fades, he slowly loses parts of himself that will never return, gone forever, except as those thoughts and perspectives, emotional reactions, explanations and stories carry on in the lives of his children, adopted or adapted consciously or unconsciously.  Like physical DNA, family culture is passed down generation to generation–reproductions of the mind–and the most persistent are those aspects least noticed or recognized.  When a man dies, or loses his mind, he is not lost to this earth.  His voice and thoughts and outlook persevere in those he has touched, most profoundly in his children, like data downloaded from an old to a new computer (though the updated software may configure it differently).


None of us are “self-made” people, but each is made up of bits and pieces of everyone who has impacted our lives, directly or indirectly.  In a real sense our memories are not our own, springing up from our independent interaction with our environment.  We do not experience the world in isolation, but see it through the eyes of significant others who dramatically shape our valuations, expectations, and understandings.  Even as individuals we are radically communal in nature–I am not simply “I”, but the self that I perceive is largely composed of others, a mosaic, a smorgasbord partly chosen by me and partly plopped onto my plate without my knowledge or choice. We are all creative, coming up with our own unique elements of self, but even a genius borrows most of the building blocks of his invention from others who passed on to him the wheel, lever, and axle.

This gives each of us great advantages in life, but it also creates life-long cumbrances: we are given both wings and chains, and we can only find our way to a better place personally and corporately by identifying and taking apart each aspect of the heritage we have been given to determine if it benefits or binds.  Some would suggest that we honor our elders by remembering and praising their attributes and passing over their failings, but that certainly isn’t the Bible’s approach to the heroes it lauds.  It is only true honor of another to acknowledge the whole of who they are, anything else is only honoring a false representation.  Remembering the dark side of each person gives them the 3 dimensional character of a real person, though we should see that side with eyes of love and patience, understanding and humility… especially humility since we always fall short of accurately estimating others (our memories are all tainted).

I offer those few paragraphs as an introduction to an exploration I want to take into my father’s legacy in my own life, to use the impact I felt from him to pull apart and consider how that has shaped me into the person I am and want to be, an ongoing blog series.


Posted August 7, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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One response to “Memories Outlast the Failing Mind

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  1. beautifully said. I look forward to reading your further thoughts.

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