Sunday, September 1, 2013

Skewed Memory

Mark took this picture Friday night as we left Big Beach

One of the many highlights of our commitment ceremony weekend was the opportunity I had to see and visit with two of my college fraternity brothers, Russ and Bill, who journeyed from Chicago for the event. I hadn't seen them in 27 years. We have exchanged Christmas cards over the years, but that was about the extent of our communication. Yet, they came out to support me on my special weekend, and I love them for that.

Bill and I

The three of us didn't have much of an opportunity to talk on Saturday night, which I knew would be the case; that is why I arranged for us to have brunch together on Sunday morning. Nevertheless, Russ had had an opportunity to tell a few stories the night of the ceremony - such as the time I and others swam in our underwear in the pool at the country club where his wedding reception was held. I vaguely remembered the incident, but not in the detail that he did (no doubt because he was more sober than I was that night).

The next morning, however, Russ had lots of stories to tell about our college days. As I sat and listened and repeatedly answered "no" when he asked me if I "remember[ed] the time ..." - I gradually realized that it felt to me as if he was describing a different person, not me.

Mark's picture of West Maui from Little Beach 

Russ described, for example, how I had had a marked influence on his life during his college years, how I had encouraged him to look at life more deeply, how I had taken him along to various churches, how I had been an example of a seeker to him. The previous night, he had reminded me that I had given him, 35 years ago, a copy of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet and had encouraged him to read it. He had done so, he said, numerous times. He had then in later years passed it on to his son, who had read it many times.

Russ talking to some friends at our wedding

I had no recollection of giving Russ that book. Again, I felt like he was describing a different person to me. As I thought about this experience of visiting with Bill and Russ, I came to several important realizations. First, I realized that memory must be fed or it dies. I hadn't seen those guys for 27 years and hadn't really talked to them for more like 30 years. Whereas they have lived in the same areas their whole lives and have kept up relationships with fraternity brothers, I have not. I have not been around any of my fraternity brothers for 33 years, and because of this, I have lost my memories of my college years - or most of them.

Another of Mark's pictures taken on the beach on Friday

The second lesson I learned is that this lack of memory - of my own memories - has skewed how I saw myself during those years. Contrary to Russ' description of myself as a spiritual seeker, in my memory I had tended to view myself as shallow and fake during those years. Part of this was no doubt attributable to the increasing need to hide my sexuality (because it was being more challenged as I grew older). And part of the skewing was caused by my subsequent baptism into the LDS Church and a need I felt to leave all that behind.

The main point, however, is that I realized that I had constructed my own story of myself from my college days and it was a story that was tinged with self-hatred, not self-love. And that story had affected me up to this day. Just as similar stories from my childhood and my youth have affected me and have skewed how I look at myself and at life.

Why is this relevant? Well, for me, coming to these realizations has taught me that I'm not necessarily the person I've told myself for the last 30 years that I am. I'm a "better," kinder, more enlightened being that I have told myself I am. And when my more enlightened 54-year-old self reaches back and tells its younger version that he was ok, that he was even beautiful, it feels as though I am releasing an energy blockage that helps me to heal and move on as a more whole person.

Thank you, Russ and Bill, for bringing these lessons into my life.

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