Friday, January 21, 2005

Merciful Memory Loss

It had been almost 14 years. I hadn't set foot in that hospital since the day our baby died and my wife was released. She had spent a lot of time in University Hospital during her pregnancy. I got to know where everything was, which cafeteria foods were best, the best places to park. . . but somehow nothing seemed familiar.

I was back at University Hospital Thursday. And for all I remember from that stressful time back in 1991 I was amazed that as I walked the halls nothing looked familiar. I was a little disappointed. Granted the hospital had done a good bit of remodeling in the past 14 years, but still I thought I would seem a little more. . . at home. It was such a big event in my life. Why didn't the setting bring back more memories?

I realize that I can't remember everything. As I've gotten older, there are certain members of my family who will tell you that I can't remember anything! But this wasn't just anything. This was where my first son was born. And died.

I remember a Sherlock Holmes story where Dr. Watson told Mr. Holmes some obscure fact. Holmes was upset and told Watson something like, "Now that I know that I shall try my best to forget it. The human mind can only hold so much information and I don't want to waste my mind on something so terribly unimportant!" I always thought that was an interesting concept. And a pretty good excuse for forgetting things.

"Now honey, I forgot your birthday, but I can still tell you who sang "Torn Between Two Lovers!"

How does the human memory work? Why do we remember some things but others just can't be recalled. My wife has a great memory, except that she remembers very little about her childhood. Now her childhood wasn't a perfect one. In fact, far from it. Asking her about 6th grade is like asking a golden retriever about quantum physics. Is her lack of memory a way to forget the bad stuff?

I can remember both good and bad from childhood; ecstatic and tramatic alike. And I'm sure there are good things and bad things that have left me completely. But sometimes a switch is turned, a button is pressed, an electrode is connected or something which brings back a flood of memories. While watching a TV show a few weeks ago, one of the characters was feeling rejected and depressed and something inside me was triggered and those feelings came rushing back to me. I remembered years ago when I felt the same way. But it wasn't like remembering, it was like reliving. If it had been the beginning of the day it might have been hard to shake all day long.

Why did God design our memory this way? Or is our memory like our body - affected by the curse of sin and frequently breaking down?

It's been said that if women remembered everything about giving birth that no one would have a second child. But somehow, the pain is masked or diminished over time so that a woman is actually ready to go through it again.

I think it's mercy. Plain and simple. That verse about God not giving us more than we can handle. . . forgetting is like Spring cleaning - making room for the new by getting rid of the old. I think God uses our memory loss as a tool to wash us with His mercy. We don't have to live the pain of a lost child or a traumatic childhood constantly. There are still reminders, to be sure. But He gives us comfort. He grants us mercy.

The triggers which flood a person with feelings also aids us as we comfort others. Instead of merely feeling sorry for another person, often God allows us to share those feelings. I know that I can comfort a grieving parent a little easier because I have been a grieving parent also. And since that is true, then perhaps our memories are not always cleared away but filed away, able to be recalled if necessary; filed by God, mercifully, until needed to be used by Him to bring comfort to someone else.

I don't know. God doesn't give us all the answers. But He obviously gives mercy. And that's one memory we must keep.

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