I remember where I was the first time I heard Billy Graham preach. It was the 1968 Houston crusade held in the brand new Houston Astrodome, and I was proudly carrying the Bible my grandmother had given me for Christmas. I can’t remember what was said or who was with Dr. Graham, but I do recall that the air smelled like plastic and cotton candy, an odd but unforgettable olfactory combination. I remember where I was the moment we learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot. I was about to enter the J. C. Penny store in old downtown Port Arthur with my mother and Grandma Richey, when a woman burst through the doors, arms waving frantically in the air, screaming “The President’s been shot! The President’s been shot!” I was three years old, but I can still see the scene and feel the emotion attached to it.
A memory is deepened when formed from exposure to multiple senses. If you think about it, it’s what makes possible, in fact, impossible not to remember experiences in your grandmother’s kitchen, a childhood classroom, or Christmases past. You need only be exposed to a similar scent or situation and the result is instant recall. Others are remembered only briefly: an outline for an exam, a verse that you need to recall for a specific occasion, someone’s name that’s important at that moment. Hearing or seeing does not necessarily forge a memory. Remembering comes from hearing and seeing and tasting and touching and smelling. “Touch has a memory” (John Keats).
There’s a reason for remembering; memory is as much about today as it is yesterday. “‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ says the White Queen to Alice” (Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass”). God created memory so that I may learn from my past, for the purpose of either repeating or avoiding it. “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real” (Cormac McCarthy, “All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1”).
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:23-26, KJV)