Do This in Remembrance — What Matters Most

My son David, when he was 12, had a horrendous stroke that stole his memory and, for a time, his mind. He was in a coma struggling for life and when he “came to” I asked him, “What number is Pavel Bure” (“The Russian Rocket” and the greatest Vancouver Canuck of all time and David’s then idol). David couldn’t speak, his hands were tied to his bed frame, a frozen plastic soother was duct-taped into his mouth, but he knew the number “10.” His hand slowly opened twice. Five fingers, two times. That I won’t forget.

David was there. His memory still worked. His affection was intact. His mind functioned. He knew Pavel Bure’s number.

This is called “emotional memory.” David remembers what emotionally matters to him. He remembers hockey statistics, Bible verses, his friends’ birthdays, his family’s emotions, his Dad’s love for shoulder massages when he is stressed. He doesn’t remember Math 12 or the fundamentalism of his Sunday School days. He remembers emotionally — the things that matter.

And so do you.

I don’t remember friends’ phone numbers now that smart phones have made me dumb. I don’t remember my work address because it is on the footer of my emails. But I do remember Carole’s voice on a phone call when she is just checking in – I remember it with the fragrance, beauty and lilt of our dating years. I remember my teenage daughter coming home late at night on dates with Brent (now her husband and the dad of their two boys) and how we talked about her joy and what most mattered to her. And when David massages my shoulders, I remember when we almost lost him and how I am touched by him.

Schools emphasize “cognitive memory” and this is what we, teachers and professors, often assess. But we don’t normally enter into what our students love and what motivates them to hope and dream. We don’t understand affection, and faith and what is essentially moral, but we evaluate on data accuracy, cognitive carefulness and redundant repetition.

It seems to me that if there is a ribbon in our memory from past to present and present to past (see the last post) it is an emotional ribbon. And it is coloured in Robin Hood green and pumpkin orange and priestly purple and slimming black and smells like fresh baked sourdough with plumping butter poured all over. With a glass of cab sav. Now that I can remember.

Emotional memory tastes as great as it looks and feels even better. Immeasurable really.

Do This in Remembrance — Memory is Odd

I write most things down.

In counselling with couples I draw relational maps so I can remember emotions and how they work back and forth. When I am at home, I make lists of what needs to be done and sometimes I remember to check the list. I am really helped by my iPhone so I can photograph the price of some TV I want to purchase at Costco. Carole and I complete each other’s sentences while we have entirely different memories of the same event. I wish I could remember what I did with the last 10 years and then the 10 years before that. I am glad I write things down.

Memory is odd. We think it is linear like a ribbon, connecting us back to our histories. More likely it is startling and episodic like Instagram photos, highlighting the vivid, often over-coloring the image. You may know the 70s and 80s debate about “recovered memories” vs “false memories.” It turns out that so many of those recovered memories of childhood abuse were false. They never happened. But they were deeply felt to have happened.

Parents, teachers and preachers will tell stories and remember the telling of the story more than the event, and then the hyperbole is believed to be true. It is actually the exaggeration that is remembered. The history is lost.

Families do this a lot. “I remember Candace as being coy even from when she was little.” “Frankie is such a chip of the old block, always in trouble like his dad.” Then it becomes “true” because memory remembers it. History is again reconstructed.

The other day a client-friend asked me, “What do you write down when I am talking?” “Take a look,” I said. He looked at his genogram with all the crisscrossed lines, and my numbered point form of what he said. “Why do you write down exactly what I say?” he asked. “I do this to remember and so that I can understand.” He seemed appreciative: “I don’t think I have ever had anyone listen to me so that they can remember what I said.”

Next post: emotional and social memory. (If I can remember to write it.)

Advice to My Grandson about Friendships

I am the proud grandfather of a boy who is great with people as long as they love Thomas the Train and banana bread and don’t mind the repetitive “Jasper do it!” He loves to charm servers at the Cactus Club and he randomly says “Hi” to strangers and most things that move. When he sees that dumping everything on the floor makes me upset, he will say “Poppa sad?” and of course I melt.

So I thought I would write my grandson some things about friendships and relationships and if you want to listen in, you are welcome to. And as Jasper and I say when we are about to read a book, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin!”

1) The first bit of advice is that your friendships are not really about you.

Friendships are about the unanticipated and serendipitous mix of people, timing and events. They are not about your need for “me” and “my” or your noisy tantrums that interrupt the adulation of your Mom and Dad. Today you are the centre stage of everybody’s life (especially mine) but – sorry to say this – this won’t last. You will discover that friendships are what you add to someone else’s life and how you treasure what people add to yours.

2) You can be right or you can be happy but you cannot be both.

Most of us are right some of the time but mostly we are wrong much of the time. The real problem is the drive to be right all the time. This is a “righteous obsessive compulsive disorder” (I just made this up) where the obsession (thought) is to be smarter than the person you are talking with and the compulsion (behaviour) is to make sure he knows it. Doesn’t sound like a fun friendship, does it?

3) You are responsible for creating your friendships.

I don’t think I was ever taught this as a kid, or at least I learned it late. Let’s say your Mom, or your Uncle David, or maybe me, does some horrid thing that makes you venomous. Here is what I think — this rage has a lot to do with you and not as much to do with your friendship. And, I think it is your responsibility to figure out your feelings (anger in this case), settle your emotions so that something good comes from them, and work things out with the friend who tripped into your reactivity. And you have to do it most every time if you are going to be friendly with friends. And it isn’t just anger. It also has to do with your prickly hurts, the too often recurring lusts, various bits of guilt that swim out from your unconscious, and ever-present self-pity that makes you reach for another bit of chocolate. From this mix you create a friendship and for this you are responsible.

4) Your friend is worth accepting…

When your Gamma and I first met, I thought it was my job to make her into the person I wanted to be married to. More than stupid, this cost me a lot of angst and caused Carole a lot of heartache. I thought that she could be my Xerox copy but what is that really worth? I want you to know that accepting yourself and accepting others as they are without correction or complaint is a choice and a virtue. I have discovered that is how God accepts me and, by the way, how you have accepted me, too.

5) …and so are you (worth accepting).

Jasper, there is oh so much wonderful about you. I want to tell you that accepting your person and your personality is good and right. I love to hear your funny sentences, the words for your newly discovered feelings, how you surprised yourself the other day that I have an elbow like you. Shortly after you were born I read a novel (“The Help”) and in the story a marvelous mentor / hero speaks to a depressed and acquiescent little girl, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” You too are kindness, intelligence and strength — I see this in you and more.

I may never really tell you these things but I think them.

You Better Start Kissing Me

This poem is by Hafez, a 14th C Persian poet (also called Hafiz, meaning someone who has memorized the Quran), well summarizes the spirit of Valentine’s merriment, perhaps from God’s viewpoint. Enjoy.
————————————–
Throw away
All your begging bowls at God’s door,
For I have heard the Beloved
Prefers sweet threatening shouts,
Something in the order of:
“Hey, Beloved,
My heart is a raging volcano
Of love for you!
You better start kissing me—
Or Else!”