Who Are We?


“Warren, isn’t it? You’re Warren, right?” asked John.

“Yes, how are you doing, John.”

“Ahhh, today is a good day for me. My memory is mostly here,” he said as he continued to get dressed. John is in his early 60s.

We were in the locker room at the Y. John had swum, showered, and was almost ready to head out. Months ago he mentioned that a neurologist had recommended more exercise to combat the onslaught of memory loss. That was as much as he wanted to share. He was matter-of-fact yet unhappy about his memory, and he seemed aware that he was in a long-term, losing battle. So everyday he comes to the Y and fights his destiny.


Memories are tricky enough without the complications of disease.

They seem to exist as moments or events out of context. A thing of beauty may stay with us, or a funny incident, or a betrayal, a dangerous moment—any of thousands of experiences may stay. Yet they aren’t fixed. Memories live and breathe, evolve, fade, and return, all hinting incompletely at our pasts.

I wrote about memories as moments of peacefulness and that they help us go back and forth between the past and present. They are sources of great comfort.


The land may seem to have memories too. Trees are cut, woods converted to farms, homes built and then life changes and the farms may be abandoned or put to other uses. Often, however, the old life leaves telltale remnants that we mostly pass by without noticing.

The photograph at the top tells such a story. Clumps of daffodils are in the front and the Washington-Wilkes County Airport lies behind. In the upper right corner is part of US 78 with cars going by. It’s an ordinary scene in rural Georgia.

The field is mowed in the summer and fall, and it lies dormant and brown in winter. Only for a few weeks in spring does the field hint at a story of homes and families.

The scatter of flowers suggests several small homes, maybe a community of workers. Down the road is the Callaway Plantation, a restored homesite for a large farm that has roots back to 1785 when Job Callaway settled and built a log cabin. Eventually the plantation grew to 3,000 acres of mostly cotton fields.

Workers’ cabins probably occupied the land near the airport runway and the women in the families must have planted daffodils. Now the flowers are like memories living on the land and hinting at a fuller story.


Like our own memories, these landscapes evolve and fade. Daffodils may last decades, but eventually they too will pass and past homes will no longer be evident.

Many people fight to preserve historical places against further development and change. Places and things as they are, as they have been, give us a sense of identity. We want to keep what we were because it’s key to who we are.

It’s similar for John and his battle with memory. Memories identify him in relation to family, friends and others, to past times and various places. How else can he know himself? No wonder he’s fighting.