“I’m getting older now and the shadows are getting longer. When I look into them I see shapes move and stir and I think I remember what they are, but maybe I’m just making it up to suit a reality about myself that I find comfortable.”Craig Ferguson
I’m unsettled by how true the above quote rings to me. I’ve always prided myself on having a keen memory—of remembering not only what happened, but what it meant. Though it betrays some conceitedness, I have trouble admitting I may be just as prone to faulty memory as the next person. Even more difficult to admit, but likely true, is that my altered memories display a bias for my own comfort.
To accept that I may be inadvertently reshaping memories—especially those to do with my devout childhood and early 20s in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and doing so to fit my current agnostic perspective… that’s a bitter pill to swallow. I want my current outlook to be reliable and impactful. I want the me in the here and now to say what needs to be said, and to persuade people who need to be persuaded. How about you good reader? Does the above quote ring true?
“I suppose Catholics and people who are raised in the more flamboyant pageant-y religions are aware of the awesome fun to be had from spectacle from the outset, but I was raised a Scottish Protestant. As far as I could tell, all color and joy were to be avoided lest they lead to sin. Life was black and white and dour and then you died of something respectable like cancer and were put in a box wearing a woolen suit before being buried in a damp hole.
What I’m saying is Sunday school really did a number on me.”
You may think you know where I’ll be going with the above quote. You may assume I am about to flip Mr. Ferguson’s assertions around and make them all about Mormons instead of Catholics and Protestants. You sigh, supposing Jake is about to claim the restored Church’s Sunday School is wacky and unhealthy, and screwed up his childhood. Well…
I admire Craig’s ability to look back at his upbringing, find fault with it, and then inject some humor while skewering the traditions his forebears dumped on him. Doing so betrays what I suspect is a deep affection for his culture. Now, if you are a reader who feels anger toward those who raised you, or what they raised you to believe—and you aren’t prepared to let go of that anger just yet—I respect that. I was that way and still am on any given point of LDS doctrine. But here’s who really concerns me.
If you have no major gripes with who raised you, or what they raised you to believe, then I feel concerned. I bear you my testimony: no one makes it to adulthood without having some weird, poorly thought out nonsense jammed into their brain by grownups who probably knew better. We all arrived at adulthood having our intellects corrupted by communities which are most certainly to blame. They banged the drums of tradition and passed superstitions onto us rather than summon the courage to rebel against the nonsense in their day.
Perhaps the best we can do, like Craig seems to have done, is work our minds and hearts into an emotional place where we skewer the worst of the nonsense, laugh some of it off, and forgive the rest. Maybe that’s the most well-adjusted we can ever hope to become—not pain-free, just wiser and mostly at peace. Besides, someone in the future will need to forgive us too. What do you suspect, good reader?
“One of the interesting quirks of the aging process is that events that seemed to have little or no impact at the time resonate with a thunderous importance later on, like an expertly constructed detective novel.”
This statement is so true. For instance, when I look back on the people in my mission who mean the most to me now, almost all of them were non-members who never got baptized. In fact, some of them never even made it to the second discussion. Some of them only let me in their homes once or twice, refusing any serious commitment. Yet, my brief time with them means so much to who I have become. Still…
The truth of this last quote is undercut by the first quote included in this post. Gosh darn you, Craig! We’ve circled back to a bittersweet place of uncertainty. Isn’t one of the reasons previously insignificant memories now “resonate with a thunderous importance” because I’m dressing them up in hindsight? Maybe I’m even unwittingly fabricating some memories for comfort’s sake? Whose perspective is more valid: the earnest young man who didn’t find a given moment that important at the time, or the earnest older man driven by nostalgia to turn a few precious pebbles of memory into a keystone? Human minds are so ripe for haunting and misuse. What say you, good reader?
This devotional post includes three quotes taken from comedian Craig Ferguson’s new book, Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations & Observations.
Featured image by Jake Christensen.
Thanks for this! I wasn’t aware that Craig Ferguson has written a book but I look forward to reading it.
I have always found him to be wickedly funny, insightful and deeply decent in equal measures. I miss his nightly show.
Remarkably insightful. Geography shapes culture, culture shapes religion, religion shaped Craig Ferguson and nearly everyone else. It comes back to geography and climate; which in Scotland is cold, dark and dreary; why should its religion be otherwise?
The seal (logo) of Iceland is the four beasts of God’s throne, except not being particularly familiar with lions they have a dragon. So, dragon, ox, giant, and eagle. I might not have the meaning exactly right; they are said to be the four land-wights of the founding of Iceland and just happens to resemble the four beasts of God’s throne.
I have some Scotch in me and I don’t mean Seagrams 7. It creates affinity for dreary and cold places that nevertheless have a strong spirit and I find comforting in an inexplicable way.
As for distant memories, I’ve kept a pretty solid journal since my early 20’s and use it to calibrate the drift of my memories; and they do drift a bit, but not a lot. The ones that drift the most are the ones most frequently re-told as each telling seems to introduce a bit of drift.
I cannot guess at why some memories are particularly important. I’ve had for most of my life a vivid memory of somewhere in the southwestern United States, a shimmering of sunlight on a river deep down in a canyon, but the canyon was oddly shaped in that the river made a “U” turn near my feet but the far ends both turned to the left where I would expect the right leg of the far end to continue to the right, and the left leg to continue to the left. Having the river in a deep canyon turn back on itself didn’t seem likely. The canyone was also funnel-shaped; a V halfway down then straight down.
It was a mild obsession to find it. I bought a four-wheel drive to explore canyon country. Year after year I explored different places that have canyons and rivers and every place that my parents might have taken me. A Navy buddy accompanied me on some of these adventures but I didn’t say what was really motivating me to it.
To make a long story short, I eventually succeeded. When I arrived at the destination, a little state park, opened the door and stepped foot on the ground, I felt something that took away my breath momentarily like cold shock diving into cold water; there was a kind of subliminal “thump” like a shockwave; even my buddy commented on it. I felt something go out of me.
I’m not sure what to make of it. Clearly it was a spirit of some kind finding its way home.
But a similar thing happened to me in the temple.
It is the departure that is noticeable. You cold go a lifetime with a companion spirit and never realize it and maybe that’s the normal way.
Fantastic post! It’s not the memories so much as the meanings we assign to them. I think of the one-eyed monster in the Pixar movie “Monsters” who is thrilled to be on the cover of the magazine, even though the label covers 90% of him. Or the girl in “Inside Out” who walks through the halls of memories literally turning happy memories blue.
I’ve often thought that if I wrote a biography of my life at 20, 40, and 60, the three different versions would highlight completely different things. In particular, the meaning I’ve assigned to my mission memories have shifted dramatically with time.
It seems like you think parents and communities are harmful to children. Am I misunderstanding?
Hi ji. In asserting communities and parents have had negative effects on younger generations, I am not saying harm is the only effect they’ve had. They can be harmful and, being imperfect, inevitably are harmful in some ways. One of the conduits through which unhealthy beliefs and practices may be passed to the young is religion. But in saying that, I am not trying to say religion is only harmful. If I, or Craig in his quote, were making such a gross blanket statement, we would probably not display the “deep affection” for one’s culture which I also mention.
Don’t we sometimes spin childhood memories into adult interpretation? My childhood memories of growing up in the church were social. The ward was the center of most activities. I remember being excited for all things LDS social. Ward banquets, Christmas parties, decorating for the G&G ball, dancing in the recreation hall. These are my CHILDHOOD memories. It was cheap, fun entertainment, which my parents chaired and/or supported. I feel confident in saying I’m sure my Dad went along with all for the sake of my Mom.
Now I’m in my 60’s an adult (subjective, I know). I believe very little of what I was taught on the spiritual side. But socially? It was a blast and I miss the magic that it brought.
I attended church in a liberal ward in Michigan. I thought it was typical Mormon ward. Boy, was I ever wrong.
In the mission field mid60s I was introduced to the craziness of Moyle, McConkie, and Dyer. Boy, was I shocked. My personal beliefs had little relationship to the message I was told to deliver. In fact, many of things I taught were factually untrue. And there was a lot of proof texting. I was nothing but a salesman.
But perhaps the biggest shock of all was my first trip to the temple (while in the SLC mission home). I was so stunned by it all that I walked up to the State capitol and sat on the lawn. After I few hours, I returned to the mission home muttering “I don’t get it.” The mission prez’s wife snuck me back into the SLC mission home.