Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 13, 2008


Take good care of your memory while you have it


       Memory is an amazing and mysterious gift. At age 76 my memory amazes me. Though I perceive that it is gradually failing, I still remember things that surprise me. But often the things I remember, like telephone numbers, are of little value.

Like most people there are times when my memory is suddenly out to lunch when I need it the most. In Wal-Mart I chance to meet an old friend. He warmly calls my name. I smile and chat as though I remember him well. I do remember him, but my memory will not cough up his name. Moments like that are dreadful and embarrassing. Three days later I will recall my old friend’s name.

Some of us senior citizens can recall vivid details of childhood experiences but cannot remember at noon what we ate for breakfast. This bothers us because we know that loss of short-term memory is one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory seems to work better with negative experiences that with positive. Someone can remember for 50 years the circumstances of being hurt deeply by another person. Resentment or hatred can fuel the memory so that some hurts are etched forever in our minds.

Faith often plays a defining role in our memory. Through faith we may find the grace to let bitter memories go. When this happens hurtful memories are erased and a healthy attitude replaces the resentment that once dogged us.  Abraham Lincoln was once reminded that a certain man, whom he had recommended for a government position, had been publicly critical of the president. Asked if he did not remember the man’s criticism, Lincoln replied, “No, I distinctly remember choosing to forget his remarks.”

       Clearly some people have better memories than others. There is no obvious explanation why this is true. One principle of life that may explain it is the familiar adage, “Use it or lose it.” Evidently this is true of our memory. If we do not use it, we tend to lose it. So it seems wise to keep the brain in gear – by working crossword puzzles daily or memorizing Bible verses. Anything that is good exercise for the brain.

Caroline, my mother, had a remarkable memory. She could rattle off the birthdays of 75 or more family members – even the year of each person’s birth. My wife Dean can recall the color of a dress she wore when she was six. These days she constantly recalls wise sayings her mother taught her when she was growing up.

       Since my sister Laurida died at age 56, some 14 years ago, I have recalled many experiences we shared growing up. Nobody ever laughed like my sister. She laughed all over, and whenever she laughed, she made the most of it. Sometimes when I hear a woman laughing as Laurida did, I am plugged into joy. I recall how much she enjoyed life, and how our family still enjoys remembering her special kind of laughter.

       Laurida was a good cook, a devoted homemaker. One of her favorite things was to bake cinnamon rolls. They were out of this world. Everybody wanted a pan of Laurida’s rolls. Nobody could make them like she did. Once her reputation was made, she frequently surprised different family members of baking their own special batch of cinnamon rolls. None of her rolls ever made it to the second day.

       When Laurida was dying with cancer, and she knew she did not have long to live, a wedding for one of her daughters was arranged – at the foot of her bed in her home. I don’t think I will ever forget that occasion. We all felt the wedding was performed on “holy ground.”  It remains a sacred memory in my heart. Surely her daughter and her husband will never forget their special wedding even though it was not a “church wedding.”

       One day an older couple walked into my study and asked, “Do you remember us?” I drew a blank. I knew I had never seen these two people before in my whole life. After enjoying my embarrassment for a few minutes, the man told me their names and said, “You married us 38 years ago.” 

       Now armed with their names, and the reminder that I had married them, I still could not remember what they looked like almost 40 years before. I took their word for it, and enjoyed a chat with them. Their names I did recall, but that was all.

        Occasionally someone will walk up to me and say, “Do you remember me?” Half the time I cannot remember their name. But I have a standard reply to this question: “I could never forget a face like yours.” Usually that produces a laugh, which gives me a few minutes to work overtime trying to recall their name.

       Frankly I refuse to be terribly embarrassed when someone challenges me to remember his or her name. I simply say, “No, I know I should remember your name, but I don’t. Please help me.” If someone is ticked off by my memory lapse, I am sorry, but I choose not to punish myself with another guilt trip. I have been on enough guilt trips.

       We should all be wise to exercise our minds daily and maintain a positive attitude toward our own capacity to remember. Never say, “I have trouble remembering names.” Instead say, “Your name is important to me; tell me your name again so I can write it down. I want to remember it.”

       One favor I must ask of the young. Be kind to us old codgers. If you hear one of us telling you a story we have already told you, just indulge us please. It is embarrassing to have someone say, “You must be getting old; you keep telling the same old stories.”

       If it is a good story, be thankful for it. And remember, you may be old one day. Enjoy your memory while you can; it may not last all your life! + + +