Although we remain in the midst of the pandemic, and it is still unclear what the end of it will look like and what the “new normal” will be like, thoughts have already turned to what we want to forget about the experience and what we should remember. Grief and loss is frequently linked with our need as humans to reflect, remember and celebrate what has gone before. We take lessons from our experiences to hopefully forge a better future and avoid repeating past mistakes or having regrets. This grief could be the death of a loved one, friend or acquaintance or it could be the loss of a security once taken for granted, our jobs, our schools or access to food and supplies.
However strong an experience is and however impossible it seems that we will forget - often that is exactly what we do. Life moves on, we push away worrying or uncomfortable feelings, and our attention returns to the here and now.
A friend had some worrying symptoms; the GP was very worried (which didn’t help!), and within two days they were in hospital for tests. Those 48 hours, and the 72 that followed, were very long; and it made them think about their faith, their family, what they were doing with their lives – suddenly, when time seemed very short, it was crystal clear what was important. Fortunately, they were given the all clear, but he recently commented how quickly the memory faded; he was glad he had written down his thoughts so that he was able to recapture that clarity and resolve.
Our brains are made up of multiple, separate but interconnected mechanisms that guide our behaviour, but we are only aware of an area at the front which is our decision-making factory. Decision making takes up a lot of brain power so many, many tasks get chunked together and stored deeper in the brain. These are our habits, and they are triggered by cues; e.g. while watching TV the adverts come on, you get up and without thinking a sequence of actions that you don’t really think about result in you sitting back down to watch the rest of the programme with a cup of tea in your hand with not much brain power required at all!
So how do we turn an action that requires a lot of brain power into a habit that takes very little? By repeating the task (you can actually see this on an MRI scan of someone learning to do something). By creating a cue: want to remember to exercise? Leave your trainers by the bed to remind you to set the alarm. Want to spend more time with friends? Put times in your diary; tell someone, it helps us stick to what we want to do. It may feel odd, even artificial, but if we keep in mind why we are doing it, it helps us to manage the feelings of being clumsy, and to pick ourselves up when we realise, we’ve forgotten...again. The leap from new behaviour to habit will be challenging, but it is entirely possible; we just need to be deliberate and intentional about it.
Christians recall that at the last supper, Jesus took bread and wine, and told them to “Do this in remembrance of me”. Remembrance is not just about remembering, it’s a making present again in this moment, the saving work that Jesus made present for us then. From this year which we will gladly leave behind, let us decide how we will build something of lasting benefit, a worthy memorial that will transcend the tragedy. What will we do to make present again the clarity of what we have learnt; what are we going to begin to change so that we can make a positive difference in our lives and communities.