I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.
In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.
Memory is one of the most precious blessings bestowed by our Maker. It is truly responsible for our sense of self.
Memory is not just for remembering significant childhood events, milestones, or traumatic incidents. It allows us to function, survive, thrive, and stay sane. The unfortunate truth is that our species learns the important lessons about gratitude and our dependence on The Merciful mostly through losing one of our abilities or possessions. Thus, examine any case of memory loss, and you will definitely be astonished at how deeply involved it is in the human experience.
Memory is what allows us to make meaning and sense of life. It is involved in all the activities listed in my previous post about hand-eye coordination. It is also responsible for recognition of familiar faces, which makes for stable family and work life. It even allows us to experience movement, because we only truly experience one moment and the fact that an object or being is moving comes from having remembered its previous positions and piecing them together to interpret what we’re seeing as movement. At all times, our sense organs receive a multitude of signals and input, that we in turn interpret and react to. Whereas animals are mostly preoccupied with survival and their next meal, our extensive memory allows us to have a more unique and richer life experience.
I’ve read and watched stories of people who lost their short or long-term memories, and all I can say is that it is absolutely heartbreaking to see how dysfunctional the lives of these people became. A man lost his memory tied to specific life events. So when asked about how to change a tire, the man listed the precise, detailed steps of how to go about it, but when asked to share a time when he had to actually change a tire, he thought and thought, until he finally said that he had never actually changed a tire. When asked that if he really hadn’t changed one himself, how he knew such details. He replied that it was just one of those things that people knew how to do. Another man lost his visual cortex memory, so he declared his parents imposters pretending to be his parents, but when they were not in his sight, and spoke to him on the phone, he accepted them as his parents. Another subject lost part of his procedural memory, so when a family member asked him to switch off the room light, he just stood by the switch. Frustrated, he expressed that he knew how to switch it off but he just couldn’t quite remember it.
But the strangest story I ever saw was of the man named Clive Wearing who had no short-term memory. For over twenty years, the man lived with the worst case of amnesia. His memory was only thirty seconds long at the most, and that meant sometimes he would forget the topic of his discussion while he was in the middle of a sentence. He lived with his wife and although recognized her, became jittery with happiness every time he saw her, even if she returned to him after a minute of leaving, as he would completely lose the memory of her being with him before. Strangely, he retained his ability to play the piano and his language, but expressed that he didn’t have any thoughts at all and that he had never seen another human being before. This was his understanding because he did not have any short-term memory and therefore no chance of building up a bank of long-term memories. He was confined to constantly living in the present.
His story shows how profound memory is to our development through life. Imagine not being able to conjure memories of growing up, of fun times with family and friends. Imagine not being able to learn from your past. Imagine not being able to experience the joys of kinship and friendship simply because you cannot remember anything that you experienced more than thirty seconds ago. No memory also means no aspirations or dreams for your life. And perhaps worst of all, no memory means no direct connection to God; for how could you even begin to pray or commune with God if you would forget the sequence of your words after no more than thirty seconds?
It was through this man’s difficult existence that I realized that all of the meaning in our life comes from memory. All the emotions we experience, from happiness to sadness and all the other ups and downs we go through, happen as a result of our memory. It is what makes us human, because it allows us to learn, plan, and make choices in life. So let’s raise our hands and bow down our heads and thank The Most Merciful for this beautiful gift that allows us to have a colorful and fulfilling life experience.