Monday, December 17, 2012


My friend Stan Cottrell in telling me something that happened years ago, began, "This may not be accurate, but it's how I remember it."

Stan was willing to concede that his memory might have changed what happened. Yes, I thought we can change the past—but even more, we all do it. Unconsciously.

I thought about "Rich" who told me about his childhood that included an indifferent mother and a verbally abusive father. He ended with, "Two months ago, God split my life wide open."

Years later Rich published his autobiography and at a writers’ conference he told his story.

After he finished, I decided two things. First, Rich had become a gifted speaker.

Second, he told a good story, but it wasn't true. That is, it conflicted with what he told me years earlier. Back then, his story was powerful even though unpolished. For instance, his current version made his mother an alcoholic and his father beat him almost every night.

I don't think Rich lied, but his memory shifted and his situation probably worsened a little each time he talked about childhood. In his eloquent presentation, he quoted Bible verses that helped him turn to God. I'm sure Rich didn't read the Bible then and certainly not obscure passages from Job and Jeremiah.

This isn't to condemn Rich because I'm as guilty as he is—not intentionally and not because I want to lie or enrich a story. I've learned that as the memory fades, we innocently insert information and that becomes our version of truth. Some say that's evidence of human, sinful condition.

The awareness has become significant for me in two ways. First, I'm a collaborator/ghostwriter. After I've written others' past accounts, family members have sometimes insisted, "That's not the way it happened." (They probably disremembered as well.)

Second, it has forced me to think more carefully when I relate the past. I'm determined to follow Stan Cottrell's example and say, "This is how I remember it" instead of "This is how it happened."

I don't intentionally stretch the truth,
but my fallible memory does.

by Cec Murphey
Writer | Speaker | Teacher | Survivor
-article taken from the author's December newsletter

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