The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

The Meaning of Our Memories

by Sister Joan Chittister

Memory is one of the most powerful functions of the human mind. It is also one of life’s most determining ones. What goes on in memory has a great deal to do with what goes on in us all our lives. Memory is a wild horse, unbridled, riderless, maverick. It takes us often where we would not go, or takes us back over and over again to where we cannot stay, however much we wish we could. So, it leaves us always in one state or the other, one place or the other, leaves us either pining or confused, leaves us in either case in a world unfinished in us.

It is the unfinishedness that is the price we pay for growing always older.

The young hear memory in the voice of their elders and, delighted by these voices from the past or bored by them, too often miss the content behind the content. Memory is not about what went on in the past. It is about what is going on inside of us right this moment. It is never idle. It never lets us alone. It is made up of the stuff of life in the process of becoming the grist of the soul.


There is an energy in memory that is deceiving. The assumption is that since a thing is past, it has no present meaning for us. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Whatever is still in memory is exactly what has most meaning for us. It is the indicator of the unfinished in life. It gives sure sign of what still has emotional significance for us. It refuses to allow us to overlook what must yet be acknowledged if we are ever to be fully honest with ourselves. Most of all, memory and the way we deal with it is the only thing we have that makes us authentic teachers of the young. It tells us what we did that now we miss doing, and it reminds us of what we didn’t do that now we wish we had. And such things live in memory forever.


But memory is not meant to cement us in times past. It is meant to enable us to do better now that which we did not do as well before. It is the greatest teacher of them all. The task is to come to the point where we can trust our memories to guide us out of the past into a better future.

There is nothing in conscious memory that is unimportant. To sit and listen to a person wander through the storied fragments of their lives is to come to know what worries them, what delights them, what love did to them, what rejection dampened in them, and what is left to deal with now if  the press of past failures, the loss of past loves are ever to be stitched into a healthy whole in the here and now.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

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