If the weather is cooperative, we’re off at the Skellig Islands today, climbing a long, steep trail of steps and exploring an ancient monastery.
In the meantime, remember when I was guest blogging? One of my gracious hosts was mystery author Kassandra Lamb, and we talked about Conner Prairie, the inspiration for my book setting.
Kassandra is so awesome that she’s helping me out again, giving you something to think about while I’m taking an overdue break from my computer. She’s sharing some insights into the shocking moments our brains can’t forget – take it away, Kass!
While Jen is off gallivanting on a much deserved vacation, I promised to hold down the fort for her today.
Between her recent release of Through the Shimmer of Time and the 13th anniversary of 9/11 this week, I’ve had history on my mind lately.
We read about history, write about history, hear about it and sometimes even see it in the making on TV. But what happens when historical events become entwined with our own personal histories in our memory banks?
This often happens when an event is particularly shocking, tragic and/or strikes close to home for us emotionally. Our brains will record what’s called a flashbulb memory. We will remember, years later, where we were and what we were doing (and sometimes even what we were wearing) when we heard the news of such events.
My first flashbulb memory is from the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I was in 6th grade, and my class was outside playing softball during our Phys Ed period. We were called back in mid-game and told the news by our teacher. I can’t remember her name but I can see her face as she told us.
I have similar flashbulb memories of when I received the news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and of course from 9/11.
These are called flashbulb memories because they are recorded so vividly, as if our brain is actually taking a picture of the moment. These memories, like those of traumatic events in our personal lives, tend to be more accurate than normal memory.
A lot of people find that counter-intuitive. If you’re emotionally upset, wouldn’t that interfere with recording the memory? Well, yes, most of the hormones released when we’re stressed do interfere, so there may be gaps in our memories of what happened. But another hormone, released in moments of extreme stress, enhances the recording of the memory.
Thus the flashbulb effect. A very vivid image, often a bit suspended in time, and often with details missing from the moments before and after it.
At 9:30 a.m. on 9/11/2001, I had just come in from feeding the horses (we had a small horse farm at the time) and was about to change my clothes to start my work day as a therapist. The front door opened and there was my husband, a government worker who should have been twenty miles away at his desk.
I remember standing at the top of the short flight of steps that went down to our foyer and asking him why he’d come home. I only remember bits and pieces of the conversation after that. But to this day, I can see him standing in that doorway, and I remember what I was wearing.
It used to be one of my favorite shirts. Now I don’t wear it often because it reminds me, on a very visceral level, of that day.
What flashbulb memories stand out in your personal history?
Please check out my book, Zero Hero, which explores the unhealed wounds of 9/11 through a fictional mystery. I found it difficult but healing to write. Many readers have told me they had the same reaction reading it–difficult in places, but healing.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 the media replays the videos of that day’s devastation, and a national hero’s life begins to unravel.
When the first responder–already struggling with delayed PTSD and addiction–is accused of murdering his former drug dealer, psychotherapist Kate Huntington finds herself going above and beyond to help him. As she and her P.I. husband set out to clear him of the charges, they are thrust into a deadly world of drugs, prostitutes and hired killers, and end up questioning who they are and what it means to be brave.
Kassandra Lamb is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series. Zero Hero is the 6th book in the series, but is also designed to be read as a stand-alone.
It’s Jen again. I’m obviously not around to comment here, but Kassandra will be! Do you have particular memories of these history-making events? Do you have a personal flashbulb moment you’d be willing to share?
Leave a comment below, and I’ll be back in a couple weeks!