Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Where did that memory come from?

Thursday October 13, 2022


I can picture it clearly. A heavy wood picnic table, cut from raw logs, varnished, perched on a point of land sticking out into the Skeena river. Four of us eat ham-and-lettuce sandwiches – me and my wife and our two children, both under six years age. 

            I can’t remember exactly when this happened. But I can date it fairly accurately. Because our car is a bright yellow 1962 Plymouth Valiant. 

            Why do I remember that? It has no relevance to anything in my current life. It simply exists in the hard drive of my mind. 

            Fellow blogger and friend Tom Watson drew my attention to an article in New Yorker magazine, in which Alex Baia offers a number of rules on how to simplify one’s life.

            He says, among other things, that 80% of our physical possessions contribute nothing to our happiness. Do I need 20 shirts? Two cars? Several thousand books? Certainly not.

            Then get rid of some of them, says Baia.

            He’s equally ruthless with other “stuff.” 

            That 20% of your emotional attachments are hurting you. And only 30% of your relationships are beneficial. So why cling to them?


Why bother?

            I assume that at least some of what Baia says is tongue in cheek.

            But it does make me wonder why I bother retaining the memory of that picnic by the river. It makes no difference to anyone living today. Not even to me. And my daughter was too young to remember it – it’s not part of her memory bank. 

            It’s as unnecessary as those extra shirts. 

            There are certainly some memories I would be better off if I could erase them – old grudges and peeves. 

            But my brain doesn’t have a filing system. It’s not like data storage on a computer, where I can select ancient files and decide which ones are worth keeping, and which ones aren’t.

            The risk, of course, is that I might erase a memory that I discover I needed, later. Too late – it’ s gone!


Too many memories

            But remembering itself can be a risk. 

            There is, apparently, a variant of autism called Hyperthymesis, which enables people to recall an abnormal number of life experiences in excruciating detail.

            Wikipedia calls it “extraordinarily rare, with only 62 people in the world diagnosed with the condition as of 2021.”

            For them, memory becomes a burden. They can recall in such detail that they’re always living in the past. 

            They’re not like those savants who deliberately memorize information, like umpteen decimal points of pi. Or who can identify every star in the visible sky. Or who can play Wagner’s entire Ring cycle by heart.

            It’s unbidden memory. Something triggers it, and whoosh…

            I’ve written before about my mother-in-law’s memory. She couldn’t remember a family reunion. She even denied it had happened. Then my wife said, “Mom, it was the first time you tried adding curry powder to your potato salad.”

            Whoosh! It all came back. 

            Perhaps those triggers are the key to neurons firing, the passcode that sets synapses searching. If life changes enough that the triggers no longer surface, the memories associated with them will lie dormant, hidden under the dust of disuse.

            Until death eventually erases them, permanently. As if they never were.


Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Last week’s column about the value of retreats seems ot have resonated with many of you. 


Tom Watson has had “several invitations to go on week-long silent retreats. Not for this boy! Saying nothing for a whole week? Nope! I'd be bonkers.”


Introversion and extroversion (or extraversion) hooked several respondants. 


John Martin: As a confirmed introvert, I recognise ‘performance mode’. I can keep it up for about half-an-hour before I revert to type. As to retreats, I'm in the opposite position to you: I live with a ‘raging extrovert’ and the retreats I've undertaken have been a welcome respite.”


Kim MacMillan: “I am definitely an extravert, though not a raging one. For me, doing a long silent retreat is a second half of life thing. When I first considered it, it seemed like an exquisite form of torture. As I became more reflective in my own life, I began to think of it as something that would be  difficult but ‘good for me.’ Then, in my 50s, during an extremely busy time of life, when I thought of doing a silent retreat, I thought, ‘Oh, that would be wonderful!’  So I did it, and it was one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. I came home a more serene person. 

            “While I’ve never experienced what I would call the voice of God, I did experience several serendipitous occurrences where just the thought or resource I needed to move past a block simply came into my path. I think it’s good to move into a retreat like that without many expectations -- just move in faith that the food you need will be given to you.”


Steve Enersen: “Many of the characterizations of you and your life apply to my life as well, from working alone, to enjoying silence and being comfortable being alone for long periods, to performance-mode extrovert, to not sinking into the cellphone.”


Janie Wallbrown: “I liked your sentence about being an introvert but putting on a ‘performance mode’ to be an extrovert. I feel as if that describes me too.

            “I found it wasn't silence that I needed to hear God. It was sitting on my couch, totally clearing my mind of all else (not editing manuscripts or writing sermons!) and just being. Inside me I was silent. I was astounded when I first felt ‘knots’ go.”


Isabel Gibson summed up the differences: “Maybe, as an introvert, you find it easiest to get outside your own head (to listen for that still small voice) by being distracted/interrupted by other people.  Since extroverts tend to *live* outside their heads, their challenge is to reduce distractions long enough to get inside.”


“Complete silence,” said Ralph Milton, “is crazy making. On one occasion I went into a studio used in pre television dramas when you wanted an outdoor atmosphere where the sound does not echo from walls. It is lined with foam rubber cones jutting out from the walls. In there, it is so quiet you can hear your heart breaking. I found that after about five minutes I wanted out. I just couldn't stand it any longer. 

            “So no, I don't want a silent retreat, though like you I have no trouble spending time by myself. But I don't hear the voice of God during those times. When I have heard the voice of God, it has not been in words but in a sense of yearning for something. A warm hand in the small of the back urging me into something. Or maybe that's my own ego. Can my ego be the voice of God?”


Bob Rollwagen explored the idea of silence: “If a tree falls in the forest, is there a sound if no humans are present? The wildlife hear it and react. When humans gather to observe something like the birth for a child or the hurricane that hit Florida last week they think if God. If humans were not present would the wildlife stop to think of God? So maybe God only exists in the presence of humans, unlike the sound of a tree falling in a forest.”




Psalm paraphrase


Psalm 121 is an alternate reading for this coming Sunday, according to the Revised Common Lectionary. I find it more powerful than the selection from the lengthy Psalm 119.

            The relationship between God and us is, at least superficially, comparable to that between us and our pets. So I played with how a well-loved cat or dog might think of its owners. I think this is the first time this paraphrase has been published. 


1          I know who looks after me. 
Every time I look up, I know. 

2          They understand things that baffle me. 
They are in charge of the household. 

3          They provide meals twice a day; 
when I curl up at their feet, I can sleep without fear. 

4          Night and day, all is well while they're around. 

5          They look after me; 
they call me away from trouble; 
they teach me to to discern their will.

6          So I am not troubled by heat or cold, of rain or snow. 

7          In their home, I am at home. 
They are my sanctuary, my safe place. 

8          I know that they will take good care of me,
as long as I live. 



Apparently the printed version of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)




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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: memories, filing, erasing

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