“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.