Do you remember the excellent 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind“? Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star as a couple whose relationship has fallen on hard times. In order to deal with the pain, they decide to erase one another from their memories. How you ask? You’ll have to go watch it:) Suffice it to say, the incredible fiction of memory “editing” portrayed in that film looks like it may not be too far from becoming a reality.
Earlier this week The NY Times ran an article about neuroscientists at NYC’s own SUNY Downstate Medical Center who appear to have discovered the molecule responsible for the brain’s ability to hold onto certain memories (at least when tested on rats). Basically, once an animal had learned a certain behavior the scientists injected it with a drug that interfered with the molecule in question. As a result, the animal went back to square one, showing no sign of remembering any of the previously learned behaviors. Crazy!
The implications of such a drug are clearly enormous. In fact, the scientists in question instantly began talking about its potential to erase traumatic experiences or fix addictive behaviors in people (which one of the scientists claimed are learned behaviors… but that’s a discussion for another time). This leads right up to “Eternal Sunshine” and the desire to erase the painful memory of a broken heart.
At first it all sounds like a pretty good idea. I know I can think of a few memories I would like erase, times when I really made a fool of myself or when I was hurt by a loved one, etc. Trying to forget negative experiences is nothing new, of course. Take James Bond as an impersonal example:) He uses shaken martinis and random women to try to forget the pain of losing his one true love. Some of us might use our jobs (Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle”), or exercise (Tea Leoni in “Spanglish”), or food (Ben Stiller in “Dodgeball”). The truth is, we are extremely creative at finding things to help us cope or deal with our painful pasts. Ironically, many of the addicts that the scientists from SUNY desire to heal are already using drugs to forget. They’re just not using this particular drug. I digress…
My point is, and yes there is a point, this drug is just one more in a long line of attempts to control what we cannot control: ourselves. We may be able to erase certain learned behaviors, we may even be able to erase the memory of the broken love, but we cannot fix the root problem behind those symptoms. Which is ultimately what they are. They point to a much larger issue, one for which there is no drug. The pain and dysfunction that litters our pasts points to our brokenness, our sin.
We focus on the symptoms because they are somewhat manageable. Anything to avoid being confronted with our powerlessness! Because admitting powerlessness entails death. Death to our illusions. Death to hope in ourselves. Death to our projected “realities”. We cannot and do not go there. It is not safe.
Thankfully, it is not up to us. We are taken there. Our histories often serve as a form of law that condemn us. We try to cope, but more often than not, we are forced to face our helplessness. God does this. He does not let us out of his grip. As Steven Paulson said at the 2009 Mockingbird Conference, “God is so jealous for you that He will kill you to get you.” This is what happens to us when we come face to face with our memories. We begin to hit bottom. This is our Good Friday. Our end is His new beginning.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. – Galatians 2:20