Each year during graduation season I get a pit in my stomach. In 1977 as a high school senior, my friends were talking about college and celebrating their achievements. On the other hand, I was living with the fear and shame that I might not graduate.
Our memories, particularly ones that involve shame and fear, often seem to be frozen in time. It’s a burden we carry with us like the chains that Dickens’ Jacob Marley drags behind him.
But are our memories written in stone?
Oliver Sacks wrote:
We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jar of preserves in a larder, but transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with the very act of recollection.
If memories are not fixed, how can we see them in a new way?
I began to explore my memories, to excavate what was beneath the frozen surface. Who was that girl that struggled in school? What was important to her? How did those experiences change her?
I saw a young girl distracted from her work by her passion for people and their stories. I saw how her intense curiosity about others would come to be the bedrock of her work in the theater and as a psychotherapist.
I discovered that her terror and shame taught her to have deep compassion for others as they faced their own fears.
I watched her use her close call with failure to build a fire of ambition that burns still today.
By embracing the complexity of experiences, memories evolve.
I no longer have a pit in my stomach. Instead I see a girl who did not yet understand that what holds her back will become her superpowers.