Why Our Memories Are So Important to Us

An overwhelming response from Guideposts readers about how we remember, how we forget and the enduring presence of God.

Posted in , Jun 17, 2021

Edward and Gracie in the woods

I continue to be amazed by and incredibly grateful for your responses to my blog and magazine article Forgetting to Remember, recounting a small lapse when I could not remember if I remembered to turn on Gracie’s collar light before I let her out one moonless winter night. The incident triggered an inner frenzy of doubt about the state of my own memory, drawing out images of my mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, the same thief that stole her father’s life and killed both her sisters and a brother. And someday me, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking. What else can you call a disease that steals our memories but a thief?

In researching a book on Alzheimer’s, I am learning that the processes that occur in the brain to form memories are complex and not completely understood. For instance, our perception of physical reality seems immediate, but it is actually occurring nanoseconds in the past, given that our brains must catch up to the speed of light at which images are reaching us. In a sense, virtually everything we experience happened in the past since information must travel. Everything is a memory, whether it happened a millionth of a second ago or years ago. Cognition itself is a function of this phenomenon and not the other way around. Our minds are primarily memory machines.

Is it the centrality of memory that prompted so many of you to share your anxieties over your own memories and your experiences as caregivers for the memory impaired? I think our memories are like a mirror that tells the story of our life, of who we are. Maybe the specter of memory loss makes us fear that someday we will look into that mirror and see nothing reflected back.

Except perhaps God. I have heard many anecdotes from you and in my reading that somehow the soul endures Alzheimer’s. People who have forgotten nearly everything remember the words and melodies to hymns. People who can barely speak can still say prayers. My mother could say the rosary even when she could say little else. Who knows what communion is going on inside those damaged minds? Does our relationship with God remain unimpaired by memory loss? Maybe that’s because the way God reaches us is outside the bonds of physical reality, beyond the restraints of time. God is never a memory.

I hope I continue to hear from you on this subject. I’ve written about addiction, about our love of pets (Hi, Gracie!), about many things. None has elicited the response that this has. Maybe you can help me understand why by emailing me here.

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