Do you know what I have hated, loathed, detested, despised–ever since I was eight? The television. That buzzing little box was my mortal enemy. If this were a fictional account rather than a memoir-sketch blog, I would classify the television as an antagonist, or an outright villain.
Members of the National Federation of the Blind, listen up. I am not giving the visually-impaired community a bad name by admitting this; it is a personality trait and related much more to a series of traumatic experiences than to a simple complication known as bilateral retinal detachment. Members of the general public, you listen up, too. In layman’s terms, all of this translates to the fact that I don’t, and never did, loathe the television because I happen to be totally blind. I dislike that device because it is not intellectually stimulating; because the raw emotions expressed in many shows either remind me of my own difficult past or seem to make light of serious situations; and, above all, because the television has come to symbolise profound loneliness and isolation over the past two decades. Instead of interacting, of playing board games or reading the Bible together or preparing meals side by side, most of my friends and family had screen-related concerns, be they sportsball games or crime shows. Even popcorn, because it is associated with movies and television, takes on a bleak air. And, that device is NEVER, under any circumstances, “the TV”. We award nicknames and acronyms to items of which we are fond, and to designate the television using initials would fabricate an affection that I do not harbour. Even frozen meals are not “TV dinners”, but recreational meals.
January always seemed to be the worst timeframe, as far as television was concerned. January, 2001: Sportsball, right alongside a very serious crisis that is too personal to print. January, 2002: a new move to a new little apartment, complete with television, ostensibly to pass the time. January, 2003: extensive television, albeit some of it of an evangelical nature. NOTE: Pastors who happen to be broadcasting their messages onscreen do not count. January, 2006: Super Bowl snackage and a very lonely Ready Writer on the sidelines. January, 2007: loud programmes of every description, right alongside the worst spiritual valley I have ever endured before or since–not related to television-watching, but associated in my own heart and mind nevertheless. January, 2009: see above. January, 2013: more words spoken electronically than by active human voices in the home, right alongside the second-worst spiritual and emotional valley I have ever experienced.
What is my point? Not bitterness–trust me, this post goes far deeper than an angry polemic. And, to all you Christian readers out there, not superstition. Just because many Januaries have featured isolation and television does not mean that I find the first month of every year responsible for the phenomenon–merely that people get “more relaxed” in the middle of winter, and that many of our more difficult times happen to have taken place then. I simply catalogued all those January television experiences to illustrate the fact that my memory doesn’t function the way most other people’s does, and it never has. You see, it isn’t just television I remember dates for–I can tell you the exact date on which Naomi shared her hot cocoa recipe with the rest of us, the date of a routine dental appointment in 2003, the date on which I acquired most of my music collection, the last time I enjoyed fettuccine alfredo, and exactly what time I woke up yesterday morning (4:36, if you’re curious.) I can describe in vivid detail what happened on 20 February of last year–very routine things. Hannah took me to a doctor’s appointment, we went to the mall for a much-needed neck massage and some less-needed bath salts, and I recorded an audio-journal entry about Naomi’s health. All of this became clear, vivid, and intense shortly after I received the Holy Spirit, but I can see vestiges of the trait even before then; by the time I was eight, I could remember on what days of the week my birthday and Christmas had fallen, and could name the day of the week on which they would fall next year. Going even further back, I remember learning to talk. One of the first things I did when I had enough vocabulary to string sentences together was to remind my parents of incidents that had happened months or even a year or two before, when I was barely a toddler–dreams, bathtimes, the scents of the grocery store, old toys, overheard conversations, you name it!
Until recently, I thought everyone’s mind worked this way. I used to belong to an online writing group and can, to this day, remember nearly every piece of authorial excellence I ever read there. One day in 2010, I met one of these wonderful writers for Mediterranean food and referred casually to something I had written two months before. She had no idea what I was talking about, though she had quite obviously read my little piece at the time. I tried to jog her memory with a few keywords, but she was stumped and probably came away with the impression that I was quite egotistical if I expected her to remember everything I had ever written. Embarrassing? Absolutely! I had only mentioned the piece because I didn’t want to repeat information she had already read because, I reasoned, everyone could remember everything they had ever read, complete with the exact wording…
Sometimes, this excessive remembering gets me in trouble. Once something is planted in my mind and especially my heart, it stays there. This has caused many people to assume I don’t forgive them–if I forgave, then I would forget, right? Not really. Once, back in January of 2007, we all got up in bad moods and someone snapped at me about the thermostat. Very, very minor in the scope of life. I remember that incident to this day–not with bitterness or pain, though that took me quite some time to get over, but because I feel it imperative to remember what was said about the thermostat until or if the heating standards change. It isn’t that I don’t forgive, it’s that I don’t seem to be created in such a way as to enable quick forgetting.
Another thing: My brain doesn’t differentiate between long-term and short-term memory. Everything is lumped together in such a way that the song I sang in church this morning is just as easy to recall as the evening before my little sister was born, back when I was two-and-a-half. This morning, I awoke when Natasha needed to be fed; one day when I was four, I awoke to hear my mother sing out that she had recorded several audiobooks on tape. Today, I went for a little walk around the neighborhood; one day in 1992, my blood levels were too low and I stayed home from school, but my mother and I managed to get a walk in and to enjoy the magnificent fragrance of neighbouring pine and juniper trees. Today, I used white lilac Camille Beckman hand lotion; when I was eight, my mother gave me a tiny sample of her face cream to try just so I could experience the silken smoothness of it all.
Sometimes, though, this sort of thing works against me. On 4 December 2013, Naomi experienced a severe migraine. After going to check on her, I passed someone in the kitchen. This person’s actions triggered a heart-rending memory of 25 February 2010, when a fellow Christian seemed to be rebuking me in the Lord. At once, it was though I were reliving the experience–not remembering it, but experiencing it all over again. It was impossible to escape, and I spent the rest of the day in tears.
What, you ask again, is my point? I’m getting there, my dear reader, I’m getting there. Over the past year-and-a-half, I have come to recognise how rare this way of thinking is. A bit of research yielded the term hyperthymesia, which is derived from Greek words meaning “excessive remembering”. This is the scientific term for my thought processes, but before any of you suggest that I enroll in a formal study, I must emphatically declare that this was a gift given to me by the Lord and meant to be used as a gift, and as something to overcome when it presents challenges. This is between me, the Lord, my family, a special person in my life whom we shall designate Good Samaritan, and my blogging community.
Ever since I returned from guide-dog training, I’ve attempted to explain it to my close friends and family. I wasn’t sure whether anyone really understood, though. Most of the time, I still got the impression that people thought I had cultivated this way of thinking, and/or that I wasn’t a good forgiver, etc.
The turning-point came so unexpectedly that I almost put up an unwitting barrier against it. All day, the television had been on. At least it didn’t buzz anymore–we had just purchased a newer model. Sixty Minutes was on. I’m not sure whether I should be spelling out that number or using Arabic numerals, but I’m frankly too lazy and tired to research the matter. Anyway, I was tolerating it–it was better than a crime show, something featuring an obnoxious laugh track, or a football game. Suddenly, Jedediah remarked, “Here are some people like you! People with extraordinary memories, or something.” Even then, I wasn’t so sure I was interested. Watching the segment wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know…
Sure enough, the show featured a study that had been performed with some fifty subjects, all of whom seem to have thought processes similar to mine. The only difference is that most of these people associated dates, emotions, etc. with political events or those related to popular culture, whereas I tend to make firmer associations with things involving my spiritual life. Everything else, though, rang so true that Jedediah, Naomi, Hannah, and I spent the entire twenty minutes laughing and learning. The most poignant, joyous moments came when I would explain something and one of the interview subjects would back me up a few minutes later. “This time last year was a really bad time for me,” a little boy might say, and Hannah would turn to me and say, “I’ve heard you say that before!” All those dates that I recall with ease–these subjects were using the same exact schema! Best of all was the discussion of emotions. Subject after subject explained that they couldn’t simply forget difficulties, and that when they remembered various traumas in their lives, it was like reliving the whole thing. “I can’t make it fade,” they said over and over again. I echoed their words, or they echoed mine–sometimes, I would say something only to have it backed up not ten seconds later. Toward the end of the segment, some of those interviewed were asked if they would trade this ability–this wondrous gift, this terrific challenge–for a typical memory. Their statements mirrored my own: collectively, we wouldn’t relinquish this way of thinking for the world. Despite the accompanying hardships, it’s far too precious to surrender.
By the end of the segment, we were all hugging and laughing and acknowledging and understanding. I did not cry–I had long ago become too brittle in this area to expend the luxury tears–but my heart wept for joy. Naomi admitted that she used to wish that I would “just stop”, would simply forget difficult things and go on, but that she understood things so much differently now. Jedediah, who had really had little inkling that any of this was going on, said that he had been educated all-around. My moment with Hannah came later. She was sitting at the computer, recounting a misdemeanor she had committed when we were children and that plagued her to this day. “Hannah,” I said, “I have hyperthymesia. You don’t. Now, forget it!” It’s such a privilege to be able to laugh with a kind, good listener and one of the most understanding human beings on the planet.
All of this has made me feel washed clean. I had always known that I was different, but surely not so different that absolutely no one thought the way I did worldwide. Now, I have proof–and, much more than that, I have the love, understanding, and support of the three people who mean the most to me. What my research and litanies couldn’t do, this miniature documentary did with aplomb. Even now, I’m stunned by the breakthrough we have all experienced. It’s going to be different now–a greater tolerance for my little eccentricities, but also a greater openness on my part and a willingness to accept that other people don’t process life the way I do. At the risk of appearing over-dramatic, I believe that the Lord put that show in our path today and that He gave us the wisdom to watch it.
Now, I have one more date to slide into the filing cabinet of my heart–the cabinet that doesn’t have a drawer or compartment for discarded or seldom-used data. Today, for the first time I can ever recall, the television was used to bring us closer, to close a chasm that had been widening for many months, and not for the desolate purposes that I had always associated with its presence in our house. There is no way I can know how I will feel in a few months from now, but today, in this moment and for the first time, I am exceedingly fond of the TV.
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Addendum: The title for this post is from the song by Rick and Kathy Riso entitled “We Will Serve the Lord”. The chorus seems appropriate to this post: “Hand in hand and heart to heart, / Together in the Lord, / We will serve each other, / All in one accord. / Father, mother, sister, brother, / We have been restored. / United as a family, / We will serve the Lord.” Yes, we are, and yes, we will.