Memory Loss

As I listened on the radio to the stories of loved ones sacrificing their lives for the sake of our country and what America represents, I couldn’t help but become emotional. Every life has a story, every person hopes and fears; every sacrificed life is at once an incalculable loss and a precious gift. I thought of my grandfathers and father and others close to me who, though not ultimately losing their lives, offered them in service to our country. What a proud legacy of duty, honor and courage they have left for our family.

Radio talk show host, Dennis Prager, as part of his commentary on the importance of Memorial Day said on his show more than once that a nation without a memory is dead. He used the analogy of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease whose memory loss renders them essentially as good as dead. At first this saddened me because I thought of my grandma who is progressively “losing her mind.” Then I realized that Prager is wrong. My grandma is not losing her mind. Her mind is losing her body.

Our mind is part of our immaterial souls, just as our brains are part of our physical bodies. The two are inextricably linked our entire lives, both limiting and expanding the potential and function of the other. This means that the brain without the mind is dead, like a car sitting in the driveway with no one to drive it. The brain does not think. We think, with our minds, and when we do neurons fire in our brains. The brain mediates between mind and body.

But what happens when the brain breaks down? Like that car in the driveway, if it doesn’t start, the driver either has to repair or replace it. In the same way, a mind stuck with a deteriorating brain must hope for healing and improvement. The only other option is to await death, at which point the mind/soul is separated from the brain/body and freed to think without constraint.

This, by the way, is the most compelling evidence that my grandma has not lost her mind: we have not lost her. She is still alive! And she will continue to live as long as her soul (mind included) is bound to her body. Until then, her presence with us every day is proof that her mind is present though increasingly obscured within an aging brain.

The most important thing I know about my grandma is that she loved me. And though she cannot show love like she used to, I can show her the love she deserves and honor her place in my life.

America may be losing its memory. The values so many have fought and died for–freedom, duty and opportunity–are being obscured behind the new values of license, narcissism and entitlement. However, there is hope. For even if our collective memory altogether fails us, as long as America endures, it will be a testament to the values that made this great nation possible. Even a society with its values being eroded daily will retain traces of its former glory and legacy. But it is up to each new generation of citizen to honor the memory of their nation’s heroes and live up to their example.

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