One of the books I recently read and reviewed  contained a quote from Virgil that was quoted on the front cover as well as throughout the book: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” In the way that the quote was applied, it was clear that the context was a positive one, in that not even death can remove us from the memory of loved ones, or even the larger memory of time itself, especially since that life was memorialized in a good book. To the extent that our lives end up inspiring beautiful art from others or shifting the course of how people live so that it moves in a more godly direction, our lives serve as the spur to making the world better. It is striking to look at this as the positive side of memory, the desire that all of us have, some of us stronger and more explicit, to do something to make others remember that we had lived. And sometimes we do not need to do much to make others remember that we had lived, sometimes simply being friendly and encouraging and involving ourselves in the life of those who happen to be around us, so that for however long or short we have, we cause things to change around us, and leave them for the better after we are gone.
There is, however, another side to memory as well . We want to be remembered as people, but there are aspects of our lives that we wish to forget and that we wish to be forgotten. We do not wish for memory to be perfect, to be like the search engine cache which never forgets anything that was once a part of the web, so that it pulls up something that was said or done that was unwise long after we have wished to have it removed from memory altogether. After all, we are beings of change and growth, and it is not always good to be remembered for who we were, to be disregarded and disrespected simply because someone remembers what was once the case about us and cannot see the way we are different now from the past. We might also wish, if we are troubled with problems like PTSD, that our minds were better able to see that the world we are in is not the way it once was, so that we may be able to sleep peacefully at night or be able to live without being continually startled by the behavior of those around us.
Memory and forgetfulness can work several ways. There can be perfect forgetfulness, like the memory of a goldfish, by which that which is done leaves no seeming trace whatsoever, so that what we do is largely irrelevant because nothing will be recorded or remembered anyway. There can be perfect memory, so that what we do can never be forgotten or rubbed out, and can always be brought to mind whenever we wish, with the feelings and sensations of the event as fresh as they were when they were done. We can also have various kind of biased memories that damper the feelings and intensity of the past, or that bias our memory of the past by forgetting context or by slanting the feelings we have about the past in a positive or negative direction. Depending on the sort of lives we have lived, and our own characteristic approach we have to life, our memory has a particular shape, and the memory of others about us has a characteristic shape that may not closely resemble either our own memories or the way things actually happened.
Our memories are tricky to deal with, in that they serve as the origin of our historical accounts and form the basis of how we deal with people and how we respond to life, but they are decidedly untrustworthy. The more passionate the emotional response we have to something, the more unreliable it is as a guide to how to treat others and the more difficult it is to overcome the baleful effects of memory on our lives. If we could forget the wrongs we had suffered at the hands of someone, we might be able to deal with them in a friendly manner and recognize how they had grown and changed since they had wronged us, but we struggle to forgive and to allow a certain idea or perception to be changed by what has come after it. Likewise, our own memories of what we have done, when combined with our own native pride and ego, often prevent us from apologizing, because we get stuck in moments that we cannot get out of that tell us that others have never, and likely will never, feel anything for us but hatred and contempt. Our memories both inspire our current hatreds towards others and remind us that we have enemies, so that we never let our guard down in the face of those who are hostile towards us.
Yet we need not forget what was done in order to allow our memories to serve for the good. We simply need to allow our memories to be complex enough to reflect different perspectives, so that we do not become prisoners of either our own historical memory or the memories of others. We do that by moving to a larger perspective, and looking at memory as being part of a gift from God rather than a curse that has been handed down from generations before. At times we need to be like Joseph, who in the face of his brothers’ terror reminded them that their deeds were evil but that God’s plans were for the good. Even the horrible wrongs of others, when placed in a proper context, need not be so horrifying. Our own blunders and mistakes may likewise pale in comparison to the immense quantity of folly and error that has taken place in this planet, and in light of the context that we had to work with, and the other options that were available for us to take. By looking at the bigger picture and believing in a merciful Father eager to forgive us and encouraging us to forgive others, we can trust that even with a perfect memory of our lives, that the context of those deeds need not torment us as we reflect on how we and our lives are to be remembered when we are no longer around to defend ourselves in word and action.
 See, for example: