It’s called propranolol. A mouthful, to be sure. The reason why so many medicines have require long, unpronounceable names has always eluded me. I once asked my doctor why such a thing was necessary. He said nothing and looked at me like I was stupid. I don’t think he knew why, either.
Propranolol is a beta blocker, used for everything from cardiac arrhythmias to high blood pressure to controlling migraines in children. A wonder drug with fantastic benefits.
A recent study by Dutch scientists has revealed another fantastic benefit, one that has led to a lot of thinking on my part.
Propranolol, it seems, also dulls memory. Dulls it to the point where these same scientists are boldly predicting a time in the very near future when we could rid our minds of bad memories all together.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? To get rid of all those nasty reminders of the bad moments in our lives. It certainly sounds wonderful to me. Much of my daily life is still lived in the past, whether knowingly or not. It’s fingers still grip me. Loosely perhaps, but enough that I still feel them. Feel them in my decisions and reactions and worries.
And I’m sure I’m not alone. I dare say that I’m not the only one who carries around a little excess baggage. So why not lighten that load a little? Why not forget?
I can certainly see the value in such a therapy being used to treat those suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress: victims of abuse or soldiers returning from war come to mind. These people are particularly prone to the agonies of bearing what may well be an unbearable weight. Such memories can lead not only to depression and psychosis, but even death.
But what about the rest of us? The ones who are plagued not by horrendous moments, but horrendous decisions? Are our bad memories made less so because they are not as powerful? Because they foster more guilt and regret than terror and numbness?
I’m not so sure.
We are largely the product of our experience, the end result of the countless choices and innumerable decisions. Many of those choices and decisions were good. Many were bad. But both worked together in an intricate and holy dance that has culminated in bringing us to both here and now.
But what if that dance were interrupted? Would we truly be made whole if those bad memories were taken from us, or would we somehow become less than we should?
Would the lessons we’ve learned from our mistakes be dulled along with the memories? And so would we then be doomed to repeat them?
Is there value in the things that haunt us?
That’s the question. One worth pondering, too.
We don’t mind accepting that the good in our lives was ordained by God. I’ve never doubted that my wife, my children, and my job are gifts from heaven. They provide my life with a healthy dose of meaning. They have purpose.
But if the good God has given us is endowed with meaning and purpose, then shouldn’t also the bad? And can we, with our limited vision and understanding, really label something as “good” or “bad” in the first place? How can we know for sure until the end result of our lives is played out and our story is done?
The blessings of my wife and children and job were born of horrible memories of the person I once was. It is because of those bad memories that I realize, finally, how blessed I am now. I love these things not because of the goodness I enjoy now, but because of the bad I suffered through then. Because the bad taught me what mattered. Would I give those memories back? No. Because I think the grace that has been given to me would be lessened in the forgetting. Because forgetting the pain of who I was then would dull the joy in Whose I am now.
We are all scarred by life. No one leaves this world as perfect as we entered it. But it is those very scars that shame us that make us all the more beautiful in God’s eyes. Rather than hide them, He beckons us to give them to Him.
Better than forgetting our memories is surrendering them. Better than pushing them down is lifting them up.