Memories: In Black and White or Color?

After the sudden deaths of my parents, I began to more urgently search my memory, anxious that, in their absence, I would begin to forget critical things about my mom or dad. Almost as if I could not bear any further loss,  I looked back, almost obsessively, on photographs and Olin Mills portraits, trying to regain and drink in every moment of my memory.  I  wanted the good and bad times alike to be engraved indelibly on my brain, available for immediate recall at my every whim.

A memory of fun in the rain remains in vivid color.

A memory of fun in the rain remains in vivid color.

In so doing, I learned something that will long stand as a lesson for me, and has brought me more comfort as a parent than as a grieving child.  As it turns out, good and bad times are not recorded equally, at least not in my brain.  The good, the happy,  the moving and the meaningful moments are there, in vivid color, restored and brighter than the old Jack Rabbit™ prints at which I was gazing.  The bad times and moments we all regret, however, have faded.  They are no longer in living color.  The ugly moments are not even in stark black and white, but rather are in faded, muted tones of grayscale and literally pale in comparison to the better times.

I can only speculate as to the explanation of this phenomenon.  It could be a trick of the brain, born of a desire to put rose-colored glasses on memories.   But I don’t think it’s merely that, if it’s that at all.  I think it is  the result of decades of loving parenting.  Those decades of love and support re-balance our memory and the colors in our mind’s eye, correcting shadows, color, and brightness, allowing our recollection to focus more clearly  on the things that truly matter.  I find this truly encouraging.  As parents, we have no hope of doing everything right. It’s gratifying to know that those times we fall short of perfection won’t shine like neon lights when our kids look back upon their upbringing!

© Laura Hedgecock 2009

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