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Reflections May 2017

Phase Three

Memories Can Guide Our Future

By Arnold Bornstein

My thought is that as you grow older, and naturally accumulate more memories, there is a tendency to want to recall your past time more frequently. During holidays, remembrances of things past seem to have an even greater tendency to be triggered.

Have you been suffering from flashbacks lately? You know, like the flashbacks in movies and TV, when suddenly you see and day-dreamingly relive an event or scene from your past.

As I recall and remember it, novelist Marcel Proust in Remembrances of Things Past wrote about madeleines – small, shell-shaped French cakes – and how he would dunk them in his tea when he was a young boy and visited his grandmother every summer. As an adult, when he dipped a madeleine in his tea, Proust would sometimes have a vivid flashback to his childhood. I have more exotic (and fattening) snacks with my coffee, but they don't trigger a remembrance of my past.

Of course, Proust was different than you and me. He couldn't tolerate noise, for one thing, and the walls of his Paris apartment were lined with thick cork for soundproofing. And he also happened to write some of the finest and most profound prose in the history of literature and the written word.

Be that as it may, my flashbacks can result from many things, such as daydreaming or a chance remark or hearing an old song or seeing a familiar object or whatever. I don't mean flashback hallucinosis, the term psychiatrists use when people hallucinate from drug use or have recollections from a traumatic experience such as a battle.

My thought is that as you grow older, and naturally accumulate more memories, there is a tendency to want to recall your past time more frequently. During holidays, remembrances of things past seem to have an even greater tendency to be triggered.

After a while, you may wonder what was real and what was imagined, for I have an image of being a couple years old and sitting in the backseat of a car and looking at my mother and my brothers. However, can you retain such a memory from such a young age and, if not, why is the image there?

My father died of Lou Gehrig's disease when I was 10, and my mother passed away when I was 34. Memories of deceased loved ones can also live in our hearts, but I hardly had a chance to really know my father, while recollections of my mother are abundant.

My first brush with death came in the Navy during the Korean War when our destroyer narrowly missed colliding with an aircraft carrier, while other incidents involved cars, including once while jogging, but I can summon seemingly total recall with each of them.

One of the most painful flashbacks can involve looking back at decision-making, at whether you made the right or wrong move, be it in your career or in school or in a friendship or whatever.

Sometimes you can learn from your mistakes, of course, and sometimes there is nothing you can do about it as you rehash the details of a bad memory.

We all have remembrances of being embarrassed or belittled or being unjustly blamed or being taken advantage of, and afterwards when reliving the scene, it appears clear to us what we could have said or done. At the other end, are memories of our hurting others or yelling or losing our temper or whatever, and later, wishing that the memory could be deleted and that we could set things right – but the person is no longer alive.

And what of the memories that sometimes disturb us at night? We can lie awake recalling them or awaken to them from a troubled sleep or sometimes recollect a mix of reality and imagination that borders on being a nightmare.

The philosophers and sages have told us that we must remember history or we may be condemned to repeat it. In any event, memories of love and of life itself – be it with your spouse or family or friends or whoever or whatever – evidently become more cherished with the passage of time. And it is this unique quality of the human beings that perhaps offers us our greatest hope for ourselves and the generations to follow, in a world of strife and turmoil.

 

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