Tag Archives: memory

11 July: Memories are made of what, exactly?

The trouble with memory is that often it plays us false. We may not remember an event exactly as it happened. Another witness may remember it differently. Here is Dr Johnson’s view of the matter, written well before we had such conveniences as camera phones to help – a little.

There is yet another cause of errour not always easily surmounted, though more dangerous to the veracity of itinerary narratives, than imperfect mensuration. 

An observer deeply impressed by any remarkable spectacle, does not suppose, that the traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great convenience for writing, defers the description to a time of more leisure, and better accommodation. He who has not made the experiment, or who is not accustomed to require rigorous accuracy from himself, will scarcely believe how much a few hours take from certainty of knowledge, and distinctness of imagery; how the succession of objects will be broken, how separate parts will be confused, and how many particular features and discriminations will be compressed and conglobated into one gross and general idea.

To this dilatory notation must be imputed the false relations of travellers, where there is no imaginable motive to deceive.  They trusted to memory, what cannot be trusted safely but to the eye, and told by guess what a few hours before they had known with certainty.  Thus it was that Wheeler and Spon described with irreconcilable contrariety things which they surveyed together, and which both undoubtedly designed to show as they saw them.

from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson.

George Wheeler and Jacques Spon rediscovered the site of ancient Delphi, using an old description from Pausanias, and published their findings in 1682. I wonder, what will be the effect of all those video recordings of himself that my 20 month-old grandson likes to watch?

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9 June: Buried Treasure.

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Foul-cankering rust the hidden treasure frets,
But gold that’s put to use more gold begets.

From “Venus and Adonis” by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare echoes the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) which shows gold becoming fertile in its own way, and also languishing useless underground. This happened to treasure that my brothers and I hid once when on holiday in Wales. Perhaps we felt that this hidden treasure was a sacrifice that would draw us back to the little resort where we had enjoyed a week of happiness with both our parents available. Our treasure was a hoard of beer bottle tops from the Border Brewery, which came in different colours according to the brew in each bottle, and carried a picture of a Welsh dragon. Our source was not our Dad’s empties, but a nearby pub’s backyard. We thought we’d marked the spot where we’d hidden them, 12 inches from the telegraph pole near the holiday house, but the next year we failed to find it.

If only we’d had a metal detector! I think the spot is covered by the North Wales Expressway now, so we can forget about looking for our treasure, and decades later, the tops will surely be fretted away, though I do know someone who would be very grateful for a set of tops from a long defunct brewery.

A more generally exciting buried treasure was discovered in Staffordshire a few years ago. Being largely of gold, it has survived, though battered at the time of burial and in the 13 or 14 centuries since. If you have an hour between trains in Birmingham, you should be able to get to the museum and admire what’s on show – if you can get yourself past the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the other treasures there.

The processional crosses and other liturgical objects were saved from destruction, but whoever hid them may have been killed in battle before retrieving them, or like us boys, may have misremembered the clues. We can admire the art while regretting that this gold will never again be put to its original use. Not that that should stop us from offering a silent prayer of wonder and gratitude. These gloriously playful designs speak of artists at ease in their faith, bringing their joyfulness to their work, as Hopkins did in his poetry.

A cross from the Staffordshire hoard; it has been folded over for burial, the precious stones wrenched off.

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3 June: Where did I put my hat?

Where did I put my hat?

Johnson observed, ‘There is a wicked inclination in most people to suppose an old man decayed in his intellects. If a young or middle-aged man, when leaving a company, does not recollect where he laid his hat, it is nothing; but if the same inattention is discovered in an old man, people will shrug up their shoulders, and say, “His memory is going”.’

Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784, by James Boswell

It must have been 30 years ago that I had a parcel through the letterbox: my hat that I’d taken off on getting into the bishop’s car. So what was my excuse then? And now?

Let’s remind ourselves of Ecclesiasticus 3:12-14.

“My son, help thy father in his age, and grieve him not as long as he liveth. And if his understanding fail, have patience with him; and despise him not when thou art in thy full strength. For the relieving of thy father shall not be forgotten: and instead of sins it shall be added to build thee up.”


Leia mais em: https://www.bibliacatolica.com.br/king-james-version/ecclesiasticus/3/

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11 November: A murky day in Manchester

gassed piccadilly

It was a murky day in Manchester last winter when I met this column of men from the Great War. The sculpture is based on John Singer Sargent’s painting in the Imperial War Museum, ‘Gassed’. He had been to the front line, though he was in his eighties, and seen the men, British and American, suffering blindness after a mustard gas attack.

They are led by a medical orderly; there is a skill to leading such a group: observing the terrain, being alert for mud, ruts, obstacles, exaggerated dropping of the left or right shoulder to lead the men to turn. There are many ways to love your fellow man: the column of men support each other in what the sculptor, Johanna DomkeGuyot calls ‘Victory Over Blindness’.

Her sculpture loves her fellow human beings: honouring the dead but challenging the living through portraying the gritty, grimy reality of unmedalled, unsought heroism. It is a bold but totally right decision to plant the men at ground level, not way over our heads, like the man on the Manchester cenotaph; an image that all but says, dulce et decorum est – how sweet and right it is to die for one’s country.

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Let us not forget that the victims of war, soldiers or civilians, are men, women and children like us and ours; that cruel things have been done in our name as well as against us. Let us do all we can to bring about peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples, and within our own communities.

Lord grant us peace.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

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11 December: the impenetrable accent

During the 1930s the British Colonial Office was beginning to grasp its duty to provide education for the young people of Uganda. The overwhelming majority of schools were provided by the Anglican and Catholic churches, but they were receiving some government finance and so  subject to inspection by British inspectors working for the Ugandan civil service.

One of these was a Scotswoman that the Anglican Bishop Stuart, who was based at Kampala, complained of. In retirement  he recalled how she had turned up to inspect one of his schools, and gave it poor marks and a bad report.

This surprised him, since he knew his schools, and this was a good one. However, on enquiring, he was told that nobody responded to her questions because nobody understood a word she said.

We can reflect in the words of Scotland’s National Poet:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.

Robert Burns, To a Louse.

In particular, as parents or teachers, to see ourselves as children see us. We won’t find out by asking them, but by watching them in our presence.

Bishop Cyril Stuart was often at odds with his Christians, but when he retired to Worcester, he and his wife Mary were presented with a ceremonial scroll, on which they were portrayed with dark skin, because they were seen as one with their Ugandan Christian brothers and sisters. His memoirs are in Lambeth Palace Library. (see p 17).

MMB.

 

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7 November: Threading a yarn.

See the source image

 

As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to  read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.

We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.

G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.

When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.

No man, or woman, is an island!

 

 

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20 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXVI: Treasures (For G.E.M.)

trees-reflection-chris

These are my treasures: just a word, a look,
A chiming sentence from his favourite book,
A large, blue, scented blossom that he found
And plucked for me in some enchanted ground,
A joy he planned for us, a verse he made
Upon a birthday, the increasing shade
Of trees he planted by the waterside,
The echo of a laugh, his tender pride
In those he loved, his hand upon my hair,
The dear voice lifted in his evening prayer.

How safe they must be kept! So dear, so few,
And all I have to last my whole life through.
A silver mesh of loving words entwining,
At every crossing thread a tear-drop shining,
Shall close them in. Yet since my tears may break
The slender thread of brittle words, I’ll make
A safer, humbler hiding-place apart,
And lock them in the fastness of my heart.

Mary Webb reflecting on her Father’s love and her bereavement. Hope to balance the feelings of despair she recorded in yesterday’s poem.

Picture from Brother Chris.

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20 May: Jean Vanier RIP

By Eddie GIlmore; from the Irish Chaplaincy blog

Another tribute to Jean Vanier from a long-standing community member; Eddies now works at the Irish chaplaincy, but is still present to the Kent community.

As I was told of the death, at the age of 90, of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, there immediately came to mind my favourite story connected with the great man: an important story for me, and one which I discovered years later from Jean I’d actually misheard!

Jean was a son of Georges Vanier, a Governor-General of Canada, and he crossed the Atlantic at the height of the second world to join the British Naval College at Dartmouth. After the war, one of his tasks, together with a fellow young naval cadet, was to ‘entertain’ the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on a long sea voyage to South Africa. I was touched to hear that when Jean went to Buckingham Palace in recent years to collect an award from the now Queen Elizabeth she said to him “hello Jock”, this being the name that those close to him used when he was growing up.

From this rather privileged background Jean found himself in 1964 in a village called Trosly in the North of France, moving into a dilapidated old house with two men, Raphael and Philippe, who he had met and befriended at a large institution and who he had invited to come and live with him. The house was named L’Arche, French for the ark, and it would grow into a worldwide network of 150 communities in almost 40 countries, where people with and without learning disabilities live and work and share life together. I joined the L’Arche community in Canterbury in 1988 and was there for 28 years, and it’s where I met my wife so I have a particular reason to be grateful for what Jean started.

In 2006 I was attending an event in Trosly for directors of L’Arche communities in Europe, at which Jean spoke to us. In one of his talks he recalled how he’d been visiting a prison in America where one of the guys had told him proudly (or at least this is what I heard at the time!) “I’m the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia”. Jean went on to say “you know, we all need to be the best something; but where do I want to choose to be the best?” I interpreted this as meaning ‘where do I want to choose to use my gifts?’ At that time I was coming to the end of my initial 4 year ‘mandate’ as Director and unsure whether or not to continue for a second 4 year term, but this story inspired me to do so.

I told this story often to people and I hoped I’d have a chance one day to say thank you to Jean. Years later I drove a minibusful of people from L’Arche Kent over to Trosly to visit Jean, who we knew could be in his final years. It was never easy to get to speak to him one-to-one but following mass in the lovely converted barn of a chapel I spotted that he was momentarily on his own in the courtyard and seized my chance. I went over and said I wanted to thank him for something he’d said years earlier that had been very important for me. “Oh yes”, he replied, “what was that?” I said he’d been speaking about the man in a prison who claimed to be the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia. “No, no, no!” said Jean, “the best car-stealer in the state penitentiary”! And we both roared with laughter.

God bless you Jean, and Thank You

And, by the way, if you want to see some archive L’Arche photos from the 1960s and 1970s (and even later!) then click here: Jubilee Blues

(Jean, seen here with Raphael and with Gabrielle who founded the first L’Arche community in India)

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December 23: O Emmanuel Come, so that we may be saved.

dec 23 pic birds in flight

One of the delights of this time of year is to see the starlings gathering. They used to roost in the tall yews in one of the gardens I worked in, up on Barton Hill. If I wasn’t there I would often still see them as they flew over the Canterbury city centre gardens I cared for, or we might meet them as I walked the children home from school.

Thank you for this image, Sister, and for all the good things you have shared with us this week.

Dec 23 – O Emmanuel

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24 November: The Road to Emmaus VII – and beyond.

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Then they said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).

Jesus has vanished, but at last the disciples see. They recognize Jesus. And they are able, consciously now, to lay claim to the strange and wonderful joy they felt as Jesus walked with them on the road and explained the scriptures to them.

But now they realise that what Jesus had told them on the road was a preparation for something else. His words, spoken during their journey, were themselves like the journey and not like the full arrival. The disciples did not really “arrive” until they reached Emmaus.

Then why did Jesus at first pretend that he wanted to go further than Emmaus? Perhaps he did this for the disciples’ sake, because he wanted to draw something further out of them. This seeming pretence on Jesus’ part gives the two disciples the opportunity to realise how much they want this stranger to stay with them; even though they do not realise fully who he is, they know that he is important to them, and so they then make a conscious choice and ask him pressingly to remain with them.

But, when would full recognition of the Risen Jesus come? And why hadn’t it come to them yet? Caravaggio’s painting helps us here, helps us to see that the recognition of the Risen Lord comes most fully within the context of the meal. In the Last Supper Jesus commanded the Twelve ‘do this in memory of me.’ He would now, in this “first supper” of his risen life, show them that he meant it. He would show them that this memorial of him was not an empty memory, a mere trick of the imagination, but a real encounter with him. Earlier in the day, Jesus had shown them that Scripture was about him. Now Jesus would show them that the meal is not ‘about’ something, it is something – or rather, Someone: it is Him.

The disciples’ recognition of Jesus and Jesus’ physical disappearance are nearly simultaneous. This is, in a way, a difficult truth. It is always a bit painful to me to think that the two disciples were so close to being able to throw their arms around Jesus once more, if only they had been quick enough! But, always the teacher, Jesus has something else, something more important to show them. When he disappears from their sight at the meal, this disappearance of Jesus is not like the disappearance of Jesus in death. This disappearance does not cause grief, it heals grief. The disciples begin to grasp now that Jesus’ reality remains in the meal. The disciples know him in the breaking of the bread. And, most importantly, they now realise that he has overcome death, and as such has assumed a new form. This form is the form in which we, too, must recognise and follow him.

The adventure of Emmaus happens only three days after Jesus’ death, remember. The disciples will need more time to express in words what they suddenly grasped here at Emmaus on an essential level. We need time, too. But there is so much to learn from this. Here I am, a latter day disciple, with all the advantages of understanding that result from access to two thousand years of Christian teaching. Yet, I can feel as raw and untutored as these two disciples were. And maybe that is the way things should be. It enables me to use their experience as a model and to take comfort and encouragement from their story.

SJC

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