Emotional Memory | Why It’s So Powerful


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“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.” ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Memory can be a funny thing.

Sometimes, when you need it most it can’t be found. Like when someone is approaching you, waving and calling your name. You realize that you should know this person; they obviously know you. But, no matter how hard you struggle to remember their name, your gray matter just won’t cough it up. 

Then there are times when something triggers a memory that’s been long forgotten. The trigger might be a song or a smell; it’s often sensory. And in an instant, we’re transported back to a time and place that we haven’t thought of in years. 

 As a small child, I often stayed overnight at my favorite aunt’s house. She was great fun and knew how to entertain children. My first experience with emotional memory occurred as a result of those visits, and it was quite powerful.

Before bedtime, my aunt would draw a warm, bubbly bath and let me play for a while. There was always a bar of gold Dial soap on the side of the bathtub, along with the toys that she kept for my visits.Dial Bath Soap

Unbeknownst to me then, the scent of that soap would stay with me long after those overnighters came to an end. Many years went by before I got another whiff of Dial soap, but when I did the memories came flooding back. In my mind’s eye, I could see that bathroom again, the light reflecting off the salmon pink tile. I could feel the warm water against my skin and hear my aunt’s laughter.

The house we grew up in had a sizable backyard and just beyond that were train tracks. In the ’60s and ’70s, there was a lot of activity on those tracks. Freight trains came by multiple times throughout the day and night. During the daylight hours, we would race to the backyard as soon as we heard the whistle off in the distance. We waited patiently for the train on the crest of the small hill overlooking the tracks. This was our chance to wave to the conductor and the rear brakeman who always rode in the caboose.

TrainWhile most people would complain about the noise, we grew accustomed to it; a comforting reminder that we were home. We lived on a quiet street (other than the trains) and on summer nights the only sounds were the crickets and the hum of a box fan trying to cool the humid air. I loved hearing the train whistle and feeling the vibrations as the approaching engine got closer. When I grew up and moved out, I left those sounds behind. 

Many years later I was staying in a place that was near a set of train tracks. It was a warm August evening, the bedroom window was open, and the crickets were singing their familiar summer song. Suddenly, I heard it. Off in the distance, a lowly train whistle blew in the dark night. Suddenly, I was back in a twin bed, in my childhood house, in the old neighborhood. The feelings of nostalgia were heartwarming and I squeezed my eyes shut, wanting desperately to hang on to them as long as possible. 

Who knew that seemingly insignificant things could stay with us, buried in the long-term memory of our brains? The things that were a mundane part of daily life.

So, what is it that causes them to generate the strong emotions that they do so many years later?

I’ve always assumed it’s the intense feeling that we’re pulled from the present moment and thrust back to a time that occurred many years prior. After all, the sensory components remain the same, while we ourselves have changed.

While the process is still not fully understood, it’s believed that the hippocampus and two amygdalae regions in the brain play key roles in processing both memories and emotions and that interactions between the two may reinforce the link between them.

Vintage CollageMost of us have old family photos that are occasionally brought out and reminisced over; a tangible connection to a past that’s gone forever.

Similar to those pictures are memorable occasions filed away in our subconscious minds. They’re easily recalled due to the significance they played in our lives.

However, many thousands more exist that have slowly faded away. Seemingly insignificant moments that are all too soon forgotten.Moments

Those rare occasions of emotional memory are golden opportunities to relive, for a few precious seconds, the moments that are no longer inconsequential. Only with the passage of time does the true value of these flashbacks become obvious. 

One more reason why we should live every moment to the fullest.


Happy Halloween!


“There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch.” ~ Robert Brault 

Gratitude Journal – Prompt #8


Photo Credit:  Annie Spratt/StockSnap.io

30 Days of GratitudeDay #8 – What book are you most grateful for?

One of the advantages of the 30 Days of Gratitude Prompts is that they help us realize how lucky we are. Here in the United States we have easy access to books and reading materials of all kinds. Public libraries offer residents a wealth of resources: fiction, non-fiction, reference, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, CDs, DVDs, and the list goes on. The First Amendment guarantees our right to read whatever we want; the government cannot choose for us through censorship.

I developed a love of reading as a child that has stayed with me into adulthood. Once again, when asked which book I’m most grateful for, it’s difficult to choose only one. I’ve read so many that delighted and enlightened me. Between many text books, Bible stories, leisure reading, and others, I’ve learned a lot about life. 


One of my earliest favorites was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I saw the movie when I was ten years old and read the book a few years later. The dramatic courtroom scene left a lasting impression that shaped my feelings regarding race relations and equality. It helped me realize that some people are unfair and dishonest, while others are trustworthy and believe in justice for everyone. Atticus Finch, the children’s father and attorney fighting for a black man wrongly accused of rape, became one of the best known protagonists in American literature, as well as my hero.


Because of my age at the time, I identified with the children in the story: brother and sister duo, Scout and Jem, and their neighborhood friend, Dill.The storyline had quite an impact on me. It takes place during the Great Depression and I was fascinated by the world they lived in. I also enjoyed watching how they entertained themselves and interacted with each other and the adults around them. The reclusive neighbor Boo Radley mystified them and was subject to their wild speculation. Convinced that he would harm them if given the chance, they learn a valuable lesson about judging people based on unfounded fears rather than facts. 

The memorable characters and compelling storylines made this novel the classic that it is. I absolutely love the book and movie version and am thankful for the wisdom and sense of justice it taught me. I’m a better person for having read it and that’s truly something to be grateful for!

Carpe diem!