Keeping in Touch With Our Roots: Using the Memory Recall System to Retain Childhood Memories
At times we have all felt the need to keep certain memories alive, but for various reasons, conscious or unconscious, we do not want to write them down. Our autobiographical memory allows us to keep these memories with us. It is like a collection of episodes, scenes from our lives integrating personal experiences—events, objects, and/or people we encountered—together with known facts, or things we already know or understand to be true. Autobiographical memory contains the memory of the self, and we can use it to find information about who we are, who we were, and who we may become.
For the past twenty years, I have been using my autobiographical memory system to keep my childhood memories alive. Fortunately, they are mostly good memories, even if they are bittersweet.
One such memory is of my last day in my native country of Haiti. I left due to circumstances, not choice, so I have never really gotten over leaving the country. Because of this, I was not quite ready to write about my lost adventures, but I did not want to lose touch with those beautiful days of my youth. I can still clearly remember that afternoon and the plans I’d made with my cousin. Our normal routine involved foraging for mangoes and cashew apples, chasing mourning doves, running through the sugar fields, and playing soccer until dinner was ready. But instead of doing those things, I left Haiti for the United States that afternoon, and I have not seen those sugar fields since. I miss them, and it is important for me to keep that memory alive so I can maintain that part of myself.
In fact, I have developed a routine where, every six months, I sit alone somewhere for two to three hours, recalling memories of my childhood. Most of these memories are specific major turning points in my life, but I also recall the mundane: work, chores, daily encounters and interactions, and events. I have recently taken up a memory exercise where I pick a day and try to recall most of its events, or as much as I can remember. Doing this allows me to maintain my connection to that last, bittersweet day in Haiti, keeping the memory fresh in my mind and in my heart.
How have you kept some of your childhood memories alive? Do you use specific or general events? What practices have you found helpful as you work to preserve your sense of self?