Friday, 22 November 2013

Our Memories

I am not entirely certain as to where I was 50 years ago today when President Kennedy was assassinated.

In all likelihood I was napping, because that is what eleven month old infants tend to do in the afternoons. My memories of that day are fully dependant on other's recountings and from continual viewings of the grainy black and white footage that have become an indelible part of the historical consciousness.

Collective memories like the ones that were formed on that fateful day in Dallas half a century ago, are fascinating. While there is no disputing the outcome of what occurred, (conspiracy theories notwithstanding) namely the death of a president, every single person who has the ability to recollect, remembers that day very differently. The entire world witnessed a catastrophic event together and yet no two people remember it in exactly the same way. We are forever coloured by our environment, age, sex, ethnicity, geographic location, political affiliation....the list is endless.

Our memories are at the core of who we are as people. They define us and set a course for us to follow throughout our lifetimes. Memories act as learning tools, as nostalgic indicators, and as familial touchstones. It is why diseases like Alzheimer's and other dementias are so insidious. These conditions rob patients of the fundamental part of their psyches that determines who they are.  We depend on our sepia-bathed reminiscences to see us through difficult times and to remind us that our lives are the sum total of both beautiful and arduous moments.

I have been struggling to pinpoint exactly what my earliest fully formed memory might be. I was three and half years old and that summer my grandfather decided to purchase two-wheelers for many of his grandchildren, at least for those of us who were still without. I remember him coming over to our house with my brand new bicycle and I remember me attempting to master the training wheels. Brother/Cousin, fully nine months older than me, was already busy with his and was well along the path toward becoming an expert cyclist. That memory is my one and only fully developed recollection of my grandfather who died later that summer. And yet, that one captured moment in time is something that I cling to with vigour and purpose. It provides me with a personal connection to a man who will forever be defined for me by other people and their stories.

President Kennedy's murder is one of those remarkable moments when the entire human population formed a memory of a singular event. As those of us who were there can attest, it will forever remain a defining snapshot of the collective consciousness. Today we remember and today we share.

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