The Trick of Memory
“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” — Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II two weeks ago followed quickly by the decline of the world into further tumult as the UN General Assembly gathered for its annual meeting across the water from me just as Russia decided to double down on its attacks and declarations of war against Ukraine, I took a step back from the world and into my own head to think about Colony and Colonization, especially as it relates to Myth and Memory and how fluid those two concepts are. The oral heritages of Kings and Queens and their kingdoms, passed down through songs, stories, poems and conversations as collective memory becomes collective history. And with each decline and rise of empire, into Myth, depending on who takes over power next and controls the conversation and thoughts shared within it. Like the 2020 election, and the remaining challengers to Biden’s legitimacy as president. Trump still commands the collective “memory”, media messaging and therefore conversation of the Republican Party, until a stronger, more powerful and convincing voice can take over.
Even during the UN meetings, I was struck by the lies being stated overtly, repeatedly, and convincingly from Brazil, Iran, Russia, and Belarus.
And the same, I discovered, is true of our individual memories, as I spent last week trying to remember my own childhood and my own “earliest memories” In order to begin to make sense of my life in a book I am committed to writing (for all like me who have lived through a life of trauma and are trying to make sense of it). and its torturous path through an abusive childhood to the resulting cancers and relationships that have shaped who I am and how I see the world today.
And I couldn’t.
My birthday was yesterday and every year I have been reminded of the “mythic” nature of my own birth, because my parents ingrained it into my head as happening in a very specific way. “Swerving taxis” and “Rosey fingers of dawn”, even the possibility of being named “Cassandra” or “Aurora” instead of the name I was ultimately given. Like the myth of my birth, much of my early childhood memories aren’t mine, but what I was told happened, by very specific people and voices at very specific points of time. And having those messages repeated over and over by the same voice, like Trump, so that what is being said has become interpreted in my own brain as my own memory. You might call it brainwashing, because it is. And before the age of 3, much of our brains and mental development are very fluid works in progress. So, it has raised the question for me of what memories are actually mine, and true, versus plugged in to ensure certain perceptions and behaviors. And the truth is I don’t know. I don’t know where my memories begin and end, which are myth and “fake news” and which are true and can be trusted.
So, I had to give up the fight. And simply call out what I knew was true and note those that had been told to me, no doubt with bad intentions. And promise myself to never do that to anyone else. To speak Truth to Reality and Trauma, no matter how hard or embarrassing it might be. Because as I’ve learned over my life, owning and sharing your own Truth, Vulnerability and Integrity is the only weapon we have against lies and the Myths others might want to tell about us. And I hope you gain the strength to do the same.
Holly Lynch is a 20+ year ESG and DEI communications veteran, board member, strategist and investor who has helped individuals and companies tackle the toughest challenges, transitions and transformations in their worlds. Having survived countless life setbacks and two rounds with terminal cancer, while seeing the country-wide collapse of the systems and safety nets for the most vulnerable in and outside our communities, she is now shifting her life and career trajectories to focus on coaching and consulting with those facing down fundamental shifts and transitions as they try to adapt to change while rebuilding their lives and businesses during these unprecedented times.