Are Memories the Heart of Wisdom?

A former New York costume designer once mentioned the concept of a “moment” to me. In theater costuming, a moment is some contrasting design element that catches the attention of the audience, so they focus on the lead actors, rather than on the supporting ones – think of a character in a red dress among a group dressed in pastels, another character in a shiny silver tuxedo among an ensemble dressed in muted gray. Why is this a moment? Because the attention of the audience pauses temporarily as they survey the scene, focusing on the important characters.

We do this in life. When we review our lives up until the present, most of us recall significant highlights of our past in great detail: marriages, births, graduations. We remember the physical aspects of the place in which these events occurred. We recall the sounds and smells. We conjure up our feelings of elation and excitement. We replay whole conversations in our minds and remember what we were thinking. And we attach great meaning to those moments.

How are we creating memories with the time we have now, so they become remembered ‘moments’ in the memories of others?

We have similar clarity about our most difficult times. Major life challenges stay in sharp focus in our recollections: illnesses, career changes, deaths of family members and friends, financial crises. We recollect how our bodies reacted, the clenching of our jaws, the paralysis of worry, the heat of our tears and the comfort of those who counseled and cared.

It’s these moments that stand out from the rest, the extreme highs and lows, contrasting with the normal ups and downs of everyday life. We write the dates on calendars and mark their annual return with ritual, celebration, remembrance. We call those we love, send cards and flowers.

Psalm 90 tells us to “Treasure each day, so you may get a heart of wisdom.” Yet we don’t treasure each and every day – there are too many of them, and too many of them are too alike. We do, however, recall the special ones; these are the treasures.

I often have the honor of spending time with people near the end of their lives. Some of them are chronologically quite old, others are much younger, but have the kind of retrospective vision that sometimes results from grave illness. They often talk about what they treasure about having lived, those days, both high and low, that stand out from the rest.

Each of our lives is a unique work of art, one we’re writing and painting and composing each day. All we really have, those of us who are alive today, are moments and memories. How are we creating memories with the time we have now, so they become remembered “moments” in the memories of others? How do we “create a heart of wisdom”? By treasuring the moments of our own past, and honoring the treasured memories of others.

We need to remember to tell our stories, show the family photos, share the recipes and songs, recount the problems we faced and the strategies we used to move through life. Sharing our memories, with enough time and attention, is a gift to others: doing so creates new moments.

As we look back at what we have created through living our lives, we can be the audience, survey the actors and the scene, as we look for the red dress and silver tuxedo, and tuck those treasures into our hearts.



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