The Memory Game

For my university application, I needed to order an official transcript via McGill’s online system. The ordering process gave me an opportunity to play a memory game. Many of us think we remember things that happened in our past but we rarely get the chance to test ourselves.

I have an unofficial transcript that I’ve hung onto for the last 20+ years. My unofficial version has:

  • the course number
  • the year I took the class
  • the total credits for the class
  • the grade that I received

When I was ordering my official transcript, the online system let me review my detailed records. The game was to match my actual classes to what I thought I had taken in school. I managed a hit rate of 1-in-4. Some of the courses, I couldn’t even remember the course name, let alone the material! That got me thinking…

Now that I have three kids, people share childhood stories with me. I also have friends that share traumas of their school years. Going further, my wife warns me to be careful lest I give our kids “issues.”

My recent memory game casts doubt on things having unfolded the way I remember. I’m guessing that there’s only a 5-10% chance that old memories happened the way I recall. Perhaps you do better with your memories? You probably think you do but it might be worth taking a test. Perhaps by asking your siblings what they think happened.

Even if the memory happened, do the players in our historical dramas still exist? In my life, I’m a far different person than the younger self that experienced past traumas. For my generation, many of the players in our past traumas are starting to die.

This isn’t to undermine anyone’s pain, but be careful if you find that victimhood becomes an essential part of identity.

Rather, in seeking to deal with pain, we can achieve a level of freedom by understanding that we’re carrying ghosts and see the role of our mind in continuing the pain.

…of a memory that might not have happened

…of a person that no longer exists