Tag Archives: childhood


How’s your memory?

In my twenties, I used to tell friends, “When I am old and can’t remember things, don’t say it is because I am old—I can’t remember things now.”memory-vulnerability-compassion

My memory has never been good. While friends could recall what they ate or wore at a particular occasion, I had nothing. Names and faces would only stick if I had spent an extended period of one-to-one time with someone. Otherwise, I would not remember them.memory-vulnerability-compassionIt could be embarrassing. Once, I approached a speaker at a conference and thanked her for her comments. I approached her as a stranger, but she knew my name. My confusion must have been evident because she added, “I met you at dinner, last night…with Sandra?” She was trying to jog my memory, but I had no recollection, probably because we were in a large group and I did not speak with her one-to-one. But still, I did not recall her from the previous evening—I cringed.

This may not be scientific, but I believe that memory is a muscle and if it is not exercised, it loses its potency. I think of memory the same way I think of biceps; if exercised they stay strong; if unused they sag and are useless.

My memory did not get exercised as a child. Too many things happened that were better forgotten; my mantra became don’t remember. What was the point of remembering things that were too painful or that others would claim did not happen? I learned to let go.

But, I have paid the price, and now that I am old, I worry about what I can’t remember.memory-vulnerability-compassionSometimes it is place names. For example, on my recent visit to Phoenix, I visited Old Town Scottsdale, but later, I could not pull the word Scottsdale from my memory. I could describe the art galleries I visited but not the name of the city.

Usually, though, it is people I can’t recall. I don’t seem able to imprint names and faces in my memory, and that can be embarrassing and worrisome. What if this inability to remember is a symptom of something worse than a sagging memory muscle?

In my defense, since moving to Michigan four years ago, I have met many people—and almost everyone in my life here is new in the past four years. I meet new people every day at work, and that adds up to quite a few new people each week. It can be too much.memory-vulnerability-compassionThe funny thing is that my memory seems to have tons of data stored in it, and I can sometimes access things I did not even know I had retained. That makes me a good team mate for games that require minutiae (think Trivial Pursuit). My brain is also good at puzzles and figuring out mysteries; I can remember and recall clues and make connections others can miss.

I have many skills, gifts and talents, but a good memory is not one of them.


Making friends with my shadow

One of my earliest memories is an incident that happened when I was four years old. I had found a dime in the yard and was running to show my mother when my older brother intercepted me. “That’s mine,” he said. I did not believe him, but I knew he would take it from me, so I swallowed it.

Twenty-five years later, soon after I started seeing a therapist, I shared this memory. “And you’ve been doing that ever since,” my therapist said. “What?” I asked obliviously. “Swallowing every threat and hurt,” he replied. That gave me something to think about.

Over the coming weeks and months, my therapist and I talked about all the hurts and rejections that had been too painful for me to deal with and how I had “swallowed” them—stuffing them down deep inside. I came to realize that I had a whole other person living within, a shadow side, made up of all the dark things I had not dealt with.

My therapist helped me to see how I was acting out of these buried feelings, and he encouraged me to look at these past hurts. He actually suggested I “befriend” those things buried deep within. Befriend them? I thought not. I could barely stand to look at them let alone think of them as friends.

But in time, I came to see more clearly how I was acting and reacting out of my past hurts and knew something needed to change.

My therapist help me understand that the things buried in my shadow side could not hurt me again—they were all in the past—and I was no longer a vulnerable child who could not defend herself. I was an adult who could make choices about how I reacted to events in my life. I had options.

I prayed for the grace to face the things buried in my shadow side and asked for Jesus’ gentle   touch to heal the memories and close these open wounds. Healing scriptures became personal invitations from God. Yes, I wanted to see. Yes, I wanted to walk. Yes, I wanted to be healed of my hemorrhaging.

Eventually, I became more comfortable staying with past pains when they surfaced, rather than stuffing them back down as soon as I started to feel any discomfort. I got to the point where I could look more objectively at my past, and rather than denying them, I began to incorporate my hurts into my story.  I could see how my past had shaped me and helped me be more accepting and compassionate. The wounds were transformed into gifts.

Lots of practice has helped me move more quickly from having my buttons pushed to figuring out what pain is being touched. Just the other day, a friend reminded me of an event from a few years ago. She did not know that the event had been painful for me, and I did not know I was still holding onto that pain. But at her reminder, I felt myself becoming defensive. Awareness is the first step. I pray for the grace to be healed of this hurt, knowing that befriending it will transform into a gift.

Simple Gestures

“That was the first time I got a letter in my mailbox,” said the man who had called me, his voice full of wonder and excitement. He was one of the adult learners in the literacy program where I worked, and I had sent the letter to congratulate him on passing the GED.

How sad, I thought, that this 29-year old man had never before received a letter. Even the way he expressed it sounded foreign to me—“I got a letter in my mailbox.” I would have said, “I got a letter in the mail.”

I thought of all the times I had reached into the mailbox and pulled out a card or letter, the joy in reading a friend’s news and that sense of connection.

The first personal mail I remember receiving was in the summer after second grade. A classmate, practicing her newly-acquired writing skills, sent me a post card when she was at her family’s cottage. Every summer after that, she continued the practice of sending me post cards.

I remember waiting for the mailman to arrive on summer days, anticipating my post card, the thrill of seeing something with my name written on it.

I was hooked; letter-writing became a part of my life, and even in this age of electronic communication, I still love to write and receive letters.

The other day I received two notes in the mail. One was a thank-you note from my niece for her birthday gift. The other was a mystery. The name in the return address was unfamiliar and piqued my interest.

It was from a woman I had met last week. A minivan was creeping along the street and stopped in front of my house just I was leaving with the dog for our afternoon walk. I approached, thinking they may need directions.

The driver explained that she had grown up in my house and she was bringing her mother on a “trip down memory lane.” Her mother related that she and her husband had moved into my house when they got married in 1957.

I shared what I knew of the neighbors—some of them had grown up on this street and are living in their parents’ homes—and I invited them in to see my home.

“Oh, no, we couldn’t do that,” said the daughter. I pleaded with them to come inside, thinking of how much I would love to go into my childhood home. They declined.

“Any time you want to come in,” I said, “please just let me know.”

Her note expressed their “good luck and good timing” that I was walking the dog when they were driving down the street and their gratitude for the updates on the neighbors.

Now that I have her address, I will write and invite her and her mother to come for a visit. I can almost imagine her delight at retrieving my note from her mailbox.