At some point in the future, there is a chance that our grandchildren will ask us to recount what it was like to live through the Covid-19 pandemic. Precisely how we tell that story, though, may not yet be clear.
We know for sure that just about every human on the planet has experienced a tale of epic proportions over the past fifteen months, but it is also an extremely complex series of events that doesn’t necessarily yet lend itself to the traditional story arcs that shape and bring meaning to our experiences. Making sense of it all will take time. Lots of it.
In his book, Unique: The New Science of Human Individuality, David Linden brings clarity to the question of how we will remember with a stark and perhaps unexpected statement.
Everyone has a unique life story, and everyone’s story is wrong. Our memories of events are notoriously unreliable.
Linden goes on to explain his remarks by making three important observations.
Our memories are not recordings of events, but unreliable traces of our individual experiences of events.
Our recall of memories is not set in stone, but can be influenced by current beliefs, bias, knowledge and feelings.
Our memories are designed to be generic in nature, making them an efficient resource for future decision-making.
In short, all of us have an inbuilt tendency to generate plausible stories out of memory fragments, even if many of the stories we tell have been decoupled from the original set of facts that inspired them. And, far from being a “bug” in our brains, this form of memory redaction - even amnesia - is important in helping us sift, sort, and distill what is important for our future life.
As schools around the world start to look forward in hope to a post-pandemic era, there is no doubt that what we have collectively experienced will have shaped the way in which our future will emerge. At the same time, however, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that this “collective experience” will be remembered differently - and, often, wrongly - by each one of us; that many of the details over which we have obsessed for so many months, will naturally start to fade and blur; and that perhaps the most we can hope to do is sift, sort, and distill what is important for our future students.
So, in the end, who is to say what I will tell my grandchildren? No doubt, many of the specifics, the milestones, and even some of the emotions will fade with the passing time. I hope, however, that when the moment comes, I will have the foresight to remember to say something like this:
… that, in the worst of times, even as many people surprised us with their indifference, ignorance, racism, and aggression, other people—some of them friends and colleagues, some total strangers—managed to cross barriers and offer us kindness, compassion, alliance, and strength.
The rest might not be worth remembering at all.