A Bad Memory? By Trevor Plumbly
Recent newsworthy events in sleepy old NZ have led me to believe that memory isn’t all the poets and songwriters crack it up to be. According to their outpourings, memories are either poignant, pleasant or triumphant; in fairness to them I suppose it’s pretty tough to write stirring words about the mundane, but they do tend to glam things up a bit. At a personal level, memory is quite selective, it allows us to recall and enjoy moments of absolute joy but blocks us from experiencing the actual elation at will. We can quite vividly re-visit the inconvenience of injury or illness but can’t recall the physical pain that accompanied it, yet we’re more than capable of refuelling emotional anger, jealousies and real or imagined slights for years with total accuracy and persistent rancour. Most of us, like me, who simply don’t have the capacity to bury things completely, manage to leave these mental nasties in a sort of internal deep storage that we rarely visit or uplift from.
Memories that Won’t Go Away
Others however, aren’t quite so lucky: either the emotional trauma is too much to minimise or their mental makeup is such that bad memories are kept close to the surface and can be irritated at will. That in itself is not really a problem; problems arise when it affects others in the form of revenge. How many times have we heard “he/she started it!”, “it’s all their fault!” or worse “of course I’m not going to forget it, it’s a matter of principle!” It’s crazy really that these and other self-directed excuses get used to plaster over all manner of pure spiteful actions, ranging from the petty through to the seriously harmful. I can accept that we enter the world with a built-in retaliation reflex, but we are fed a huge amount too: most fictional book and film plots lionise those in pursuit of righteous revenge.
The Need to Move On
Some 40 odd years ago, Arthur Thomas was falsely accused and imprisoned for murder; many years later, after an appeal hearing revealed that evidence had been planted by a police officer, he was pardoned and compensated by the government. Just recently that police officer died, and as is customary, his funeral was attended by his colleagues, one of whom described him in somewhat glowing terms to the congregation. This apparently incensed those in the Arthur Thomas camp who publicly voiced their criticism to an avid media. The police officer’s family responded by stating that they were prepared to go to any lengths to clear his name and suddenly, the bitterness that should have been forgotten years ago gained a new life. Neither faction will gain anything of value from continuing this spat; the only winners can be loopy theorists, the prurient public and the media. How sad is it to see people waste so much of their life and emotions on an event that they will never resolve. It will be even sadder if this regrettable saga becomes part of their children’s inheritance. Let’s hope that they, at least, will be blessed with short memories.