Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás is probably not a name you know, but his words most of us have repeated. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And God commands the people of Israel, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm."(Dt. 5:15)
And yet, in the first reading today God tells us through the prophet Isaiah,
Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
Which is it? Should we remember or should we forget? The simple answer is both. How could I love if I could not remember? Memory is the very foundation of relationship? We see this in the tragedy of Altzheimers, when our loved ones can no longer remember who we are. All learning requires memory.
And yet, we also know that memory can also lead to spiritual death. It can be the foundation for resentments, anger, vengeance.
The good news is that we all have selective memories. And the even better news is that we can choose which things we will remember. On the one hand, the more often we recall something, the more ingrained it becomes in our long term memory. On the other hand, any memory if not recalled on a regular basis is forgotten. True forgetting should not be confused with denial. In denial we continue to recall the painful event, but tell ourselves that we have let it go.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez articulated it best. La vida no es la que uno vivió, sino la que uno recuerda, y cómo la recuerda para contarla. Life is not the one you have lived, but the one you remember, and how you remember to retell it.
Have you had a good life or a bad one? What do you choose to focus on? What events do you select when telling your story? How do you interpret the events? All of these are choices that we make.
Humans have very limited memory capacity. Why should we waste what little we have on things that do not add to our lives? In this Lenten season let us make better use of our memory and Choose life.