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The Power of Sentimentality

21 October 2008

I recently visited the campus of my alma mater, Albuquerque Academy, where I spent 6 of the best years of my life before graduating in 1982.  It has changed a lot; most of my beloved teachers are gone, and the physical plant is at least twice as big as it was when I was a student there.  

But some things remain.  The leaves are turning, and the air is typical Land of Enchantment – clear, dry, crisp, bracing.  Off to the east, the Sandias still lord their ruddy, stark beauty over Albuquerque’s sprawling mass.  Indian summer is incomparable here.


Why do you suppose memories are so powerful?  I walked all over the campus to get a feel for the place.  In the Administration Building, the historians have fitted the walls with historical pieces.  (In case you’re interested, qb is #14, front row, far left.  I think I chose that number in honor of the great Dutchman, Johan Cruyff; but I can’t say for sure.)


I found the tree whose trunk was the backdrop (I think) for my senior portrait:
And I sat a while at Richard Harper Memorial Field to bask in the memories of our 1980 state championship in soccer:
The old gymnasium where I would eat my whole Godfather’s pepperoni pizza on Friday nights between JV and varsity basketball games…it still smells just as it did when I was there.  Amazing.  The Chargers have won their share of state basketball titles since I was there.
I couldn’t bear to walk into the boys’ locker room; too many tears remembered.
What is it, precisely, that throws that physiological switch in the human body?  What is it that translates the smells of yesterday – the smells of today – into piquant, immanent memories, which turn into weeping, sadness, and unbidden convulsions of undifferentiated regret?  
Dallas Willard says that my soul does all of that, my soul that integrates body and spirit to form a whole person.  I’ve got no better explanation.
In the meantime, despite the rawness that it all evokes, I think I’m glad that I have a soul – or whatever it is – that allows me to experience afresh the irresistible power of sweet, painful, formative times, amplified, not diminished, by the years.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 October 2008 1:31 pm


    If you have not read this article, it is worth a read. Let me know what you think.

    Memory is a marvelous aspect of our bodily reality–hence stories which imaginatively place us physically somewhere else, hence reverie and reverence triggered by the senses of smell and taste, hence the return to a place in one’s past. As I know from working with combat Veterans, certain sounds, sights, and smells, even the feel of weather and darkness, conjur memories of terror and trauma. But even those if shared can bless all involved.

    Sentimentality is far too weak a word.


  2. queueball permalink*
    22 October 2008 5:04 pm

    Interesting article. But it still does not explain how the material influences the spiritual; the author seems to lean (his prolepses notwithstanding) toward the belief that the so-called “spiritual” is merely a spinoff of the physical. He does not come down SQUARELY in that camp, just suggestively. Thanks for the link. qb

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