This is a guest post (by invitation) by.
This final post in a trilogy on discerning truth recounts a poignant example of memory distortion that has bittersweet connotations for our family now that my husband has passed on.
Genuine tragedies have occurred when false memories have resulted in false accusations. Fortunately, most false memories are relatively harmless, and easily corrected when brought to light. Our family has a “false memory” story, which we laughingly bring up whenever we doubt one another’s recollection of an event.
During a time before everyone had cell phones, when we were living in a suburb of Baltimore, our seventeen year-old daughter J called from a friend’s house to ask for an extension of her curfew. My late husband, David, was in Europe on business, and as I listened to J’s request, I prayed I would make a decision that he would agree with.
J explained that, because she had been unexpectedly asked to close the store where she worked part time as a cashier, she had left the store much later than usual. She then got lost while trying to find the home of the friend who was hosting the party. She finally arrived about 15 minutes before she was due home. After considering the circumstances, I felt prompted to give her permission to stay out later.
When J returned home, she explained how grateful she was for the curfew extension. Her friends (most of them not LDS) had encouraged her to make up a story about a flat tire or something similar. She had told them that she never lied to her parents, and that they were generally understanding and reasonable about modifying the rules in special circumstances. The fact that she obtained a curfew extension when telling the truth, greatly surprised and impressed them. I was very thankful that I had followed my spiritual impression to grant J’s request.
Soon after this experience, David phoned me from Europe, and I explained in great detail the extenuating circumstances, hoping he would agree that I had done the right thing. He was very impressed with the positive outcome of this event, and the details stuck in his mind. Some years later, when David was speaking of this experience to some friends. I was shocked to hear him tell it as though he had been the one who had spoken with our daughter. I didn’t interrupt him at the time, but I later reminded him that J had spoken with me, since he was in Europe at the time.
David didn’t believe me. Apparently I had recounted the experience to him in such vivid detail, including my emotional and spiritual feelings about what had happened, that he had internalized it completely. Thus, many years later, when recalling the event, he was fully convinced that he was the one who had granted the curfew extension resulting in J’s relief and justification in the presence of her skeptical peers. I was incredulous, thinking that he must be joking (a pastime he frequently engaged in) when he continued to insist he had answered the phone that night David was so confident and forceful in his assertions that I eventually began to wonder if I had fallen prey to early onset Alzeheimer’s.
Fortunately for me, some time later, when our daughter confirmed my version of the experience, he graciously conceded that he had obviously been mistaken.
Once there was a second witness, my husband had to admit intellectually that he must have remembered the event incorrectly. However, judging from stray comments he made about the incident over the succeeding years, I suspect that false memory may have remained in his mind until the day he died as a strikingly clear and vivid record–of something that never happened.
You can read other posts at Fellowcitizen with the Saints.