I have a memory of my son. We were on holiday in America at the time, many years ago. We had gone to Lexington, Kentucky, for the wedding of a friend, and she had arranged for us to stay with friends of hers. One morning, our host Joe got up early, before everyone else, as was his custom. Looking out of the window he noticed a small boy walking along the edge of the road. His first thought was, ‘That boy looks like Noah’—followed a moment later by the realisation, ‘That boy is Noah!’
Our two-year-old had woken up, gone downstairs, opened the front door, and wandered out into an unfamiliar street. Joe followed him out, brought him back, and later told us what had happened. We were asleep at the time.
My memory is not simply of Joe recounting the story. Indeed, I don’t remember that with very much clarity. My memory is of Noah’s actions, before and after Joe observed him; and of Joe’s interaction with those actions.
Memory, you see, is not simply concerned with the storage and recall of our personal past (I have no memory of being asleep on that morning). Rather, memory is concerned with the continuous telling and retelling of stories by which we navigate life.
This memory reveals to me that ‘I’ am more than ‘me’, more than an individual.
In this memory, I discover that in a way that does not deny difference but transcends it, I am one with my son; and one with Joe, whom I had met only days before.
It makes no sense to call what I am describing a false memory. Memory is a shared experience.
This has significance for dementia care; and for communities, including faith communities. For my faith community, it has significance for how we read the Bible, which is (not the totality of) our memory.