Memory is a mysterious and infinitely powerful human device. What St. Augustine called a “deep and boundless manifoldness” and, “the treasury of the mind”.
We make our own story from memory. Often, people’s lives can be shaped from the experiences of other people’s memory.
When I was younger I recall reading about “Lost Time Syndrome”. The theory goes that people who are abused, sheltered, or live otherwise alternate lives — such as gay men or lesbian women in small towns — often “defer” behavior to a later time in their life. Instead of being sexual renegades in their teens and early twenties when we expect most people to be promiscuous, they might defer this period to their late twenties or thirties when they have the opportunity to be themselves.
This lost time and sense of “lost memories” is so acute in some groups of people it becomes a self-feeding stereotype for the whole cohort, whether it’s an accurate representation or not.
This, in turn, changes our relationship with other people. John Gottman wrote in The Relationship Cure, “Yesterday’s feelings influence our ability to keep and maintain relationships today.”
I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been teaching a class this semester. I’m not so far removed from my college experience I can’t remember it, but wonder if I remember it well or if other factors have changed so much my memory isn’t applicable anymore.
It’s evident to me from the student’s own words they missed a lot during COVID. Their online classes weren’t cutting it and they know it. They might not know how to quantify their loss, but they know lost something significant.
We have a generation of young people who are stuck in their own form of Lost Time Syndrome, captive to a once-in-a-generation loss of life experiences, memories, emotions, and learning that risks defining them for years.
For those of us that had otherwise “okay” COVID experience where our relationships, work, and financial security was mostly stable, it will be up to us not to label this generation as somehow lost. We mustn’t allow ourselves to say, “Oh, they must have been the COVID kids who lost two years of their lives.”
It’s reassuring to me that many young people — maybe most all of them — recognize there was a problem. That their loss had an impact, but it does not necessarily define them as less intelligent, experienced, or worthy of loss.
Their memory over the next ten or fifteen years will shape their futures in all sorts of ways. For some, they may double-down to recoup lost time and experiences. For others, they may be captive to their memory in ways that we can’t even begin to understand yet.
Hopefully their memory — their mind’s treasury — develops into something rich and bountiful for their lives and we insist on pushing forward, lost time or not.