There’s a term I’ve come to really understand in the past few years, ‘living memory.’ It’s a term that includes us in a group as individuals and as group members.
You might define it as social identity.
Memory is an important part of what defines our personal identity and living memory shapes our sense of humanity. One of the ways we begin to appreciate that part of our humanity is when we face loss. I lost a childhood friend of mine, Matt, a few years ago.
We’d grown up from diapers-age together. Up until we entered our twenties, when geography and our own life choices divided us, we had been thick as thieves. We had each other’s back, there was never any doubt. Strangely, we never were natural friends. Even as young children we chose differently, we thought differently. We didn’t have overlapping interests or proclivities.
Instead, what brought us together was an intuited connection in the way our families treated us. We each were isolated and neglected in significant ways. Neither of us were beaten, or went hungry, or without gifts on birthdays and Christmas.
No, we both had families that would provide the material support for life, though we were deprived of much of the other kinds of support children need.
When Matt died, a number of years after I had last seen him, I felt the loss in ways I did not expect. We had so many memories together, so many experiences that also died, in memory, because there was no other person to remember them. What had been a friend-shaped absence became an infinite and silent void.
Living memory is something that makes us human, something that makes us greater and more intelligent in ways that cannot really be measured. It many ways, I think, it is the germ of culture, the origin of everything that is possible for us as a species.
As, from the isolation of my homelessness, I reach out for help from strangers and people I only knew for a short time many years ago, I think about the way our ideas create the world we live in.
We are building an immortal wellspring of living memory, an archive of our thoughts and ideas (even the derivative ones such as this), which will be the foundation, for years to come, from which social movements, belief systems, and the contextual framework of our shared reality will develop.
Where in our lives does the line exist between the people we are and the memories that create us? Who or what do we fight to hold that line?
Can we fight? Or do we only struggle through a set of tasks and trials in an existential sandbox? Wait…there’s a movie about that, isn’t there? Came out twenty years ago, something like that?