Tag Archives: memory

Life is changed in an instant

On Wednesday, April 6, my tour group traveled from Angers to Sarlat, France, with a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane. As I walked the deserted streets of this devastated village, I was taken back to September 11, 2001.

I was in New York City that day, having stayed overnight for work. I walked out of the apartment building on the east side a little before 9:00 a.m., planning to walk to Chinatown. I remember looking up at the sky and thinking, “what a beautiful day for a walk.” I didn’t know a plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center; I learned that one minute later when I walked across the street and into the office.

Life changed in those few minutes.

On June 10, 1944, life in Oradour-sur-Glane changed for the village’s residents. I could imagine the residents waking up that morning thinking it was like any other morning, and then some 200 Nazi’s surrounded their village and massacred the residents and destroyed the buildings. Only one woman survived.

The village has been left as it was that day, a memorial to the massacre.

Memorial plaque in the village.


Later that day, I heard about atrocities in Ukraine and thought of the people there who had woken up one day in February not knowing their lives would never be the same.

The stop in Oradour-sur-Glane was sobering, and for the next few days, my mind was preoccupied with the evil in the world—past and present.

Other times when life changed in an instant kept popping up—the day Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer, the day I was raped, the day Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia, the day I learned my husband had been unfaithful, the day my cousin was raped…a parade of life-altering events.

I allowed myself to feel the sadness for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane and the people of Ukraine—and for myself. In the middle of this wonderful, month-long trip to Europe, I held deep gratitude for this opportunity to see and learn.

I recognized the parallels in France’s life-altering events and my own, and I came to a deeper understanding of the need to honor my past, no matter how painful it might have been.

France is still coming to terms with their role in World War II. Likewise, I am coming to terms with my own history. I want to reveal the secrets I have held and move past the shame I have carried.

Walking the deserted streets of Oradour-sur-Glane reminded me to look at my past realistically and to acknowledge what happened to me. I remembered three questions from a grief retreat I attended: What was lost? What remains? What is possible?

Telling stories

Recently, a friend and I had breakfast with a man I had worked with in the 1970’s. His wife was also with us, and she told my friend the story of how I had left that job.

When she finished, I said, “That’s a good story. It’s not what happened, but it’s a good story.” Then I added, “Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.”  

I love stories and storytelling. The Moth Radio Hour is my favorite story-telling venue, and I love their disclaimer: Moth stories are true, as remembered by the storyteller.

If memory is a muscle, mine is the most underdeveloped muscle in my body. I grew up in a home where we worked to forget, where we denied unpleasant experiences and just got on with life. Don’t remember was the takeaway for me.


In my twenties, I used to joke that when I got old, no one could say old age was the reason my memory was so bad, because it was bad even then.

Culture Shift, a public radio show about the local music scene, recently did a shout-out for stories about meeting famous musicians. I don’t remember ever calling in to a radio show before, but I called in that day to share a story.

The story, as I remember it, is that in 1977, I was living in Allentown, PA, and working downtown. The hotel across the street had a pool, and that summer, I went for a daily swim during my lunch hour. Usually, I had the pool to myself, but one day several guys were there I did not recognize. I was twenty-five at the time, and they were around my age.

One of the guys came over, introduced himself and asked what there was to do in Allentown. I said I had only recently moved there, so I didn’t know.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Detroit,” I told him.

“Bob is from Detroit,” he said and then he called Bob over and introduced us.

We had the usual where did you go to school chat and talked about our favorite places in Detroit. Then I went back to work.

The next morning, my local newspaper featured a front-page photo of the guys from the pool. Their band had headlined the music festival the previous night. I had no idea who they were—even after reading the article.

I shared on Culture Shift that I live under a pop-culture rock and always have. I would not have known Bob Seger from Bob Dylan. I wondered if the Bob I met was shocked that I had no idea who he was or if he thought I was playing it cool by not fawning over him.

The Culture Shift host asked if there was any musician I would have recognized. “Paul McCartney,” I said without hesitation.

I hope someday to get up the courage to pitch a story to The Moth. Until then, this is my stage.


Tethered to the past by memory and history,

moored to what will never be again.

Like a boat bobbing on the water,

rocking gently,

comfortable in its lethargy.

Time passes by.

I look around,

hoping to find what has been lost.  

Who will I be if I let go of what was?

Cut the rope and

let the current carry you to new shores.


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.