Remembering and Forgetting
Remember me with favor, my God
By Bobby Neal Winters
I am a good listener. A hazard of being a good listener is that one becomes prey for talkers. One of the many good talkers I’ve listened to ultimately turned out to be quite insane but he did relay strings of brilliance every once in awhile. He once remarked on how clever squirrels were. They could figure out very complex puzzles. One might wonder then why they weren’t running the planet? It was in his opinion because they didn’t remember their solutions either as individual squirrels or as squirrel-kind.
That’s kind of a silly-sounding observation, but I am a listener and my payoff for being a listener is to learn things from time to time, so I held this in my memory to let time judge its value.
Man is an animal that remembers both as an individual and as a species. As a species, we have a number of means of doing this: books, statues, buildings, works of art. If I wanted to work harder, I could go on.
Remembering is also one of the functions of religion. The Bible is a narrative of Man’s history from the point of view of the people who became known as the Jews.
My mother’s mother died when I was quite young. She had had cancer for some time before she died. I have memories of crawling on the floor at the foot of her chair. I also have memories of my mother telling of how I would crawl at the foot of her chair and was so very careful not to hurt her because she was in pain.
As these memories approach an age of 50, I wonder how much I remember of the event and how much I reconstruct. I also have a very dream-like recollection of being lifted up to view her in the casket.
My mother’s mother was my grandfather’s second wife. My Uncle Joe was a child of the first wife who’d died during the Spanish influenza. He told how he remembered being lifted up to see his mother in the casket. This makes me doubt my memory. I wonder if I’ve only created a memory to fit my uncle’s narrative.
These early memories are all so fuzzy because I was so young and didn’t have the language to capture them in a clearer way. Clarity requires making distinctions and making distinctions requires vocabulary. As a child, I hadn’t learned enough words to remember the things that were happening.
Go back and read the first few chapters of Genesis. In Chapter 1 in particular, look at how many times the verb “separate” is used. God is distinguishing light from darkness, the sky from the earth, the water from the earth, and so on.
God is creating by speaking the world into being.
In Chapter 2, the story of the creation of Man is refined. He is made in God’s image. Man, Adam, stands with God as the animals come by, and names them, i.e. he assigns a different word for every animal. In going through the animals, they didn’t find a suitable helper for Adam, so God makes him one. He removes one of Adam’s ribs--he separates the rib from Adam--and he creates a woman--Eve--from it.
Look at what has just happened. Male and female have been recognized as different and that difference had been remembered in a narrative. The institution of marriage is remembered in that very same narrative.
The physical differences between the male and the female of the human species are not difficult to discern. One would like to believe that we didn’t have difficulty discovering them and that we would have trouble forgetting them. One would like to believe that.
A thing much more difficult to discover is this: Where do babies come from? Forty weeks pass between conception and birth. That is a very long gap over which to connect cause and effect. However, the people of Genesis had discovered that and enshrined it in the narrative: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord’.”
It is with this narrative and others like it that the human race remembers where babies come from.
It is my belief that we are in danger of forgetting and that many have already forgotten.
In her book The Giver, author Lois Lowry creates a world in which all of a society’s memory has been thrust upon one individual. There is only one person to remember all of life’s unpleasantness. Words are used in such a way as to conceal their true meaning. For example, the verb “to release” means “to kill” in this society. Sick old people are released; unwanted children are released; people who make mistakes are released.
Pretty words for ugly things--one would think we were onto such tricks.
In the television program House, Hugh Laurie portrays a physician who is interested interested in puzzles rather than patients. In one episode there is a pregnant woman whose child is interfering with her treatment. Dr. House refers to the child as a parasite.
On the surface this seems to make sense. The child draws nutrition from the mother’s body much like a liver fluke or a tapeworm might. It is not a large step to call a baby a parasite. That I will grant. However, referring to a child in it’s mother’s womb as a parasite fails to make some large distinctions. The largest of these is that the child has not invaded the mother’s body as an alien.
Instead the child was created within the mother’s body in cooperation with the mother’s body. This is the way our species reproduces and without it our species would shortly cease to exist. It is a part of who we are.
Remembering is a process. We have to try to remember. As I said, I am a good listener and people like to talk to me because talking--retelling the stories--is a part of our remembering process. Earlier, I’d said that remembering was one of the functions of religion. This is done by the keeping of the scripture, but it’s also done by the public reading of the scripture within the context of worship. Many Christian traditions use a lectionary which takes them through the Bible on a regular cycle. The entire Bible is read in public and often special memories are reinforced by synchronizing them with the church calendar.
Forgetting is also a process. It takes time to forget. Warm words like “baby” and “child” are replaced by scientific sounding words like “fetus” and “parasite.” Instead of viewing a child as a gift from God, it is viewed as a burden and birth control becomes not just a right but an entitlement.
In looking at our history as related in scripture. Remembering where babies come from, remembering what sex is about is one of the first things our people did. Forgetting will probably be one of the last.