Tag Archives: Memories of the past make us who we are today.

“Memories of the past make us who we are today.”


A reader of my blog post from yesterday about my college roommate

“you really do know …”

“you really do know …”

wrote, in response to the post: “Memories of the past make us who we are today.”

While the point of her comment may seem obvious, I found it to be right on target in terms of understanding what underlies such posts.



I have discussed the importance of memory — my and, by extension, others’ memories — in an earlier post of mine

Roger W. Smith, “The Importance of Memory”

The focus was on memories one has of ancestors and intimate acquaintances from one’s past.

This reader’s comment concerns the importance of memory as on ongoing thing in our lived experience — including memories of still living persons and incidents in one’s daily life, from the distant past to recent experiences — in making us who we are.

I am blessed with a good memory, which is no doubt something in my brain chemistry (to put it crudely), but I think also that memory derives from one’s emotional makeup. In my case, it seems that I recall every significant person in my life, and most of the people I have known only in passing, or as coworkers or fellow students, with far more than a hazy set of recollections. Many particulars have stayed in my mind, including all sorts of little details that bring the person to life when remembering them. Similarly, I seem to remember practically every conversation I have ever had. No doubt, that is an exaggeration. But, I do recall many conversations from long ago in minute detail, word for word, figuratively speaking.

It has occurred to me that this may have to do with my attitude. I don’t take people for granted. I pay minute attention to what they say. I don’t WANT to forget. Ergo, I remember!

A similar thing is the case with the life experiences I have had, beginning at a very early age. They always had a strong impact upon me. I was rarely indifferent.



It seems that I may have, if I may be permitted to compliment myself, a “novelistic eye.” That I think like a writer to whom little details that might be overlooked are important, portentous, full of implications. It is said that Tolstoy could remember practically everything from his childhood (as can be seen in his first novel, Childhood). So, that the ability to remember may not indicate that one is a genius, but — I would be inclined to say — indicates something about how one experiences things, what is important to that person. This might be seen by considering the converse, so to speak, when one does not recall things. I myself, for example, would be hard pressed to tell you how someone I met the other day was dressed, or what make and model of car someone drove. This sort of thing doesn’t interest me.



Getting back to my reader’s pithy insight (“Memories of the past make us who we are today.”), I think this is very true. All those people from my past whom I have written about on this blog, particular experiences I have recounted, incidents from various periods of my life which might seem trivial but which for me are pregnant with meaning, form, in aggregate, a sort of compost of which the present day me has been shaped. To paraphrase a cliché, we are what we remember.



One last thought. It is salutary to record such memories, and present them in as much detail and with as much novelistic skill as one can manage, because, when we are no longer living, they may be precious to our descendants. Why else would mementos, letters, diaries, and so forth of deceased persons, including great figures from literature and history, be so valued, as indeed they are?


— Roger W. Smith

  September 20, 2017