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Memories and the Making of Me

Memories can delight.

It’s now widely accepted that memories are both recall and construct. We can assume also that some or most of our memories are less then factual. However, that does not mean they are not truthful. When I say memories lack factuality I mean they are not point to point, moment to moment, a match with what actually happened. When I say our memories can be, nonetheless, truthful, I mean they both reflect and realize who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be, or not to be, of course. To say that memories are a process of recalling and creating is not to say that remembering is a lie. Remembering is a process of self-identity and self-proclamation.

There are two obvious ways we recall/create our memories: internally and publically.

I have memories that I closely guard and rarely if ever let out. My first kiss, for example. I have a fairly vivid memory of my first kiss.[1] It would be self-indulgent and downright silly to describe that memory here, but there is another reason I refuse to talk about it. I assume that that which I remember is not actually and factually what happened. I’m more than happy with this situation. Obviously, there is only one person on earth who can verify the accuracy of my memory and if she were to send me a narrative of her memory, assuming she remembers the event at all, which I don’t, I would refuse to read it. I have certain memories that both reflect and create the person I imagine that I am and I don’t want the outside world messing with them.

In the memory recall/construct business there are memories that I talk about publically a lot, no doubt too much. I suspect most everyone who knows me is sick to death of my travel memories. That being said it is interesting to note, there could be one or perhaps two occasions when in the telling of a memory, I could have dabbled in a bit of  embellishment. Of course, if you embellish once, you really are obligated to embellish the next time too – and the next and the next and the next. I find it fascinating that there comes a moment in time when I can no longer tell myself what the original internal memory was. I really do not know, because my embellishments are never over the top[2] and memories can be so fluid.  

For example, I was in Luanda, Angola the day Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) was killed by government troops. In brief, I heard gunshots from my hotel room and went down to the lobby and then outside to investigate. At first I assumed the civil war had returned to the capital city. What I walked into was a celebration. People assumed with Savimbi’s death that UNITA would dissolve and the civil war would finally end. I’ve told this story a number of times in a number of places. Given the exotic location, the brutality of the civil war (the war had lasted twenty-seven years and was responsible for over 500,000 deaths), the magnitude of the news, the endless gunfire, the smiles, the laughs, the alcohol, the absurd coincidence that this middle class boy from the U.S. living in the UK would be standing in the middle of it all, it was almost impossible not to embellish a little. Surely you understand. Surely, you too would do the same – and if you deny that you would, I don’t believe you.

Thing is, did I really stay outside the hotel as long as I remember? Did I actually interact with people? Did I not feel fear – bullets come down! Perhaps my now memory of the event suggests I was a bit more brave, or foolish, than I actually was. I don’t know. Perhaps I didn’t venture as far from the hotel as I remember. Who knows? It doesn’t really matter. Truth is, it’s a great memory and in a small way makes me who I am today.

Memories are recall and construct.

Copyright © 2015 Dale Rominger

[1] Interestingly, I have absolutely no memory of the first time a had sexual intercourse with a woman. Those of you who have a greater knowledge and understanding of human behaviour than I will no doubt have a field day with this little confession.

[2] I seem to possess some moral compass that pulls me back from exaggeration of who I am and what I did or will do. I suppose I have my parents to thank for this.

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