Most of the time, I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast. It’s not that I am having a hard time remembering things. It’s just that as things go, it is not one of the more important things in my life. Memory, though, can be a funny thing. We will forget the name of a childhood friend, but remember the lyrics to an 80’s sitcom theme song.
Some memories, however, are incredibly powerful and have burned themselves into our brains. Psychologists refer to these memories as flashbulb memories. These are memories where the images, and perhaps sounds or even smells, of a particularly surprising event that was either important or emotionally powerful become pictures in our brain.
Many of us share common flashbulb memories depending upon our age. It might be the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, or September 11. Or, the memories may be intensely personal, such as the birth of a child or your wedding day. Last year, we acquired a new flashbulb memory with the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can remember very clearly what was going on at my school, who I was with, and, certainly, how I was feeling emotionally. This weekend, with the anniversary approaching, I am sure that many of these memories will be stirred up again as stories reappear on TV, Facebook, and the newspaper.
In the light of such a dark memory, our challenge is more than just how do we preserve the memory of those killed on that horrific December day or what steps our leaders need to take to prevent a future senseless loss of life. Our challenge lies closer to home. As parents, grandparents, teachers, or caregivers, how do we create positive memories that will overpower the horrors that could shadow our children’s lives? How do we create brighter lights that will push the shadows away?
From the darkness that is our collective memory of Newtown, take time each day, each week, each month, to brighten the lives of the children around you. Show them your love. Put down your phone and focus not on the constant barrage of emails and status updates, but on the status of those in front of you. Take them with you to engage in acts of chesed (kindness) and teach them the value of repairing the world around us. Show them the importance of treating each person that they encounter with dignity and respect. Help them treasure everyday moments and let them know how deeply you care about them. Create memories with them that they will treasure for a lifetime and empower them to do the same for their children, God willing, in the future.
Dr. Ari Yares