My grandfather does not remember me. It is a hard thing to reflect on the moments I have shared with him and realize that while I hold onto those experiences he cannot because of his dementia. To visit is difficult because much of what made my grandfather my grandfather is through our shared experiences. It is how I have known him. He looks at me now with a bit of vacancy. As a believer, I hold to the reality that his spirit remains and is more vibrant and enduring than his failing cognizance. However, it feels like a loss. Memories are important. Memories enable our learning. It facilitates our ability to grow as individuals and, ultimately, it is the sinews of our makeup. Our experiences form our identity and memory serves as a foundation on which we continue to build as we continually experience and grow.
Memory is not untainted. My grandfather’s experience reaffirms this reality. I cannot remember except through my own framework, and my framework has its own tint. In my relationship with my wife, this tint is seen most vividly as I clearly omit those offenses I have inflicted on her so easily and can enumerate even the most trivial offense she has committed against me. My memory fails. Instead of serving the purposes of God in my marriage, it serves to sew discord. As a therapist, I see the burden of memory in those that have experienced trauma. The long fingers of memory stretch from the past and paint our relationships with others, our identity, our ability to love, our health, and all of our being—that which we are. Memories can serve the dark as well as the light. Without self-discipline and forgiveness, we become slaves to our memories. We do not allow for mistakes to be made, and we perpetuate the sins committed against us into sins that we commit on another. The abused become abusers. The victim of violence becomes the perpetrator of it. The offended becomes the offender. Memories become the catalyst for a cycle that has no end.
Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years from the day violence ended many American lives. The call heard on every television channel, radio station, online article, commercial, tribute, and memorial is that “we will never forget.” We rush to immortalize this atrocity. I wonder if this is not our fatal mistake. I wonder if this memory will become the trauma that reshapes us for evil because we see through our tint of hurt and hate. I hope that we do not allow this tainted memory to become our identity. God has a divine ability to forget our sins. He says to us that he will no longer choose to remember those great acts of violence we commit toward him and towards our neighbors. The memories of our sin are the barrier that keeps us from communion with God and others. God’s answer to this barrier is to simply forget them. It is His choice to lay aside this defining evil in us and forget. As a believer trying to emulate Christ, I seek to forgive, but I also seek to forget. I can acknowledge the pain and trauma without perpetuating it. I do not want to be redefined by this evil. So I seek out this divine gift of forgetfulness—this Divine dementia—and trust to the perfect memory of God’s love.