Virtual Voices

Remember to forget

Science

What did you eat for lunch yesterday?

Dinner, the night before?

What about breakfast . . . this morning?

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If you're anything like me, you probably don't remember. Not so for my friend, Louise Owen.

We played violin together at Biola University in the late 1980s. But it turns out, playing violin is only one of her amazing gifts.

Which is why she was part of last Sunday's 60 Minutes featuring five people with hyperthymesia, a rare memory condition also known as "highly superior autobiographical memory." Louise is one of only six people scientifically identified as having this condition and was part of a study over the last year and a half conducted by the University of California, Irvine, at its Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the results of which were the basis for this 60 Minutes segment.

In an email to me (and some of her other friends) Louise said this:

"Many of you know about my unusual memory that causes me to remember every day of my life with intense clarity (i.e., if you ask me about a random date from 1985 onward, I know what day of the week it was and what I did on that day, what the weather was like, possibly what happened in the news, etc.). I often describe this memory as time-travel, for if someone mentions any day from the past 25 years, I'm instantly transported to the events and emotions I experienced that day, usually with the same immediacy as if it had happened only moments ago as opposed to years before. While I'm certain there are more people in the world who have this, so far only six of us have been scientifically identified as having this ability. I became aware of this gift when I was 12, but until this past year I'd never encountered anyone else with this kind of memory."

Wow. Now not only do I covet her violin playing, her fabulous hair, and her truffle making (visit her amazing blog), but now also her ability to remember things like the day we first met (Aug. 27, 1987).

But then again . . .

Louise loves her ironclad memory but admits it can be a curse as well as a blessing. Imagine recalling a break-up with a boyfriend and being instantly transported to that moment, complete with accompanying emotions.

I hear her on this one. There are times of my life I would love to forget altogether-whole months or even years of those kinds of times. And, as thankful that I am that time diminishes the pain/guilt/suffering that even a momentary rest stop on those events gives me, all too often I find myself ruminating over the sin and misery I've both caused and received, wishing that even the shortest of visits to Memoryland could be eradicated altogether.

Christmas is a time that can briefly bring relief, though. Not only because of the jingle bells and the Santa sightings and the toffee, but because it gives me a chance to be surrounded by omnipresent and often colorful reminders that Jesus, the Christ Child, has come to obliterate the sin and the suffering of this world, mine and yours included. It's because of what He did that we can confidently forget what lies behind us and strain forward to what lies ahead.

And if that isn't reason enough to celebrate come Dec. 25, I don't know what is.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.

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