That Old, Familiar Feeling
There are moments in life that tend to sear into your memory; it is in these moments that you realize the power of the human mind…and the power of fear to control it.
My grandparents recall the horrors of Pearl Harbor and WWII. My parents’ generation asks, “Do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated?” My peer group relives that fateful September Tuesday in 2001.
Do you clearly remember the happiest times of your life, recalling them with vivid detail? Perhaps many people say yes, but I can’t. Maybe I’m broken or something. I just assume that happy-time recollection is largely traced to photographic evidential reminders. Unpleasant memories are conjured in the same way, of course, but (based on my own experience) I contend they are imprinted more deeply in one’s mind to begin with.
I think that we are programmed to go on high alert when we are fearful or in danger, so we draw in those sensations like a sponge and remember the details more vividly. It seems almost counter-intuitive, though; few people care to recall the bad things in life. And yet, the things that are supposed to be happy memories all seem a blur to me. Maybe that just means I have had more pleasant experiences than traumatic ones? Or I’m innately melancholy.
Anyway, my case study of one (me) also indicates that physical relation to the situation matters not with regards to an event’s impact. The only thing that truly matters is how your brain makes the connection. Take, for instance, the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. I was a sophomore in high school, and I distinctly remember the day. Like every other, I flipped on the television to a cable news channel to see what was happening in the world. I didn’t expect to see live video of students fleeing their public school, victims trying to halt their blood loss. I didn’t know any of those crying teens some 650 miles away, but everything about Columbine reminded me of my own suburban world. Everything about Columbine shook me to the core.
It’s not altogether surprising, then, that last week’s Aurora movie theater shooting scared me. Superhero movies are right up my alley, as are midnight showings. I can so easily imagine that it could have been any one of my friends, or even me, in a madman’s crosshairs. To say that my heart goes out to the victims and their families feels cliché. What I can say is that I am going to be more intentional in my awareness of life’s happy moments. I want to vividly remember the good things rather than the unpleasant. I choose to let joy control my mind rather than fear.