According to Merriam Webster “memory” is the mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experience. There are countless quotes on memories- prose, short stories and musings about beloved recollections. There are mental health articles in abundance on retaining memories, jogging memory and improving one’s capacity for memory, but far fewer on how to obliterate a memory. In fact, the most available subjects when searching for ‘how to erase memory’ are largely relative to computer memory. While I am adept at extrapolating information from wise sources and applying it to the task at hand, I am hard pressed to find a mental delete button, and a metaphorical reboot seems to be the quest de jour of the Dr. Phil nation. Once after searching until dark, I was forced to ask a security guard to drive me around a parking garage looking for my car. I forget easily.
Nevertheless, memories of playing in the sand with our children do not wake us up at night; nor do they call on us to employ exercises of distraction to eradicate them. It seems to be the heartrending memories and the raw ones that attach themselves to us and demand to be brought everywhere we go. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now says, "The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly—you usually don't use it at all. It uses you."
The Institute for the Healing of Memories (IHOM), based in South Africa, addresses the emotional and psychological wounds suffered by those in war ravaged countries. The IHOM attempts to help affected individuals remove painful obstacles which can keep them from moving forward. There is extensive supporting evidence that forgiveness promotes healing and thereby peace. The IHOM asserts that holding on to the anger and hate associated with wartime experiences can give way to future conflict and violence. Healing takes place by acknowledging the hurt that led to the feelings and working through a series of exercises intended to permit emotional and spiritual growth.
Rhodes Scholar and renowned teacher of Creative Thinking, Edward de Bono said simply “A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.” Overused expressions like ‘unfinished business’ and ‘closure’ often pepper well meaning advice; but finishing and closing are not always viable options. Death, distance, and circumstance are thieves who strike without notice, depriving us of options and time.
On the complicated subject of eradicating memories it seems everyone is an expert on everyone else’s pain. Most of us march through day after day thanking God for every experience, every sunset and every person who ever walked through the doors of our lives. Still other times gratitude escapes us and we are stuck in a decayed but vivid scene when we wished that the sun had not set so fast or that someone had just kept going or never reached for us in the first place. Like a white gull pressed against a dark sky, the shadow of a painful memory allows for striking contrast and makes the sweet ones shine.