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“In The Bourne Identity, assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) loses his life history in mysterious circumstances. Italian fishermen discover his body floating in the Mediterranean. There are two bullets in his back and a bank code embedded in his hip. He does not know who he is or was, though his combat abilities and foreign language skills are retained. Bourne is eventually diagnosed with psychogenic amnesia.

Jason Bournes in the real world are usually found by police on street corners and led, in an often dishevelled and confused state, to emergency rooms. No name and no memories. Some have travelled hundreds of miles from home as part of their psychogenic flight” (Jules Montague).

In the ongoing fascination with what makes or displaces our identity, I was interested in Jules Montague’s story titled, Memory loss: what makes people forget who they are?  (Montague is a consultant neurologist at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust).

A San Diego TV station reported that her (amnesiac by the name of Sam/Samantha) family, who had lost touch with Sam in 2013, identified her after seeing a news report. Her real name was Ashley Menatta: born in Pennsylvania, lived in Arizona and moved to southern California. Menatta described the subsequent reunion (no family members have appeared in media reports). “It was extremely emotional,” Menatta said. “We were all sobbing. They’re so sorry I had to go through what I did during this time without them.”

She is no longer missing, but the concept of her identity remains challenging. Is she who she thinks she is, or who other people say she is? Special Agent Darrell Foxworth spoke to reporters after Sam became Ashley: “The FBI is not identifying this individual as by the name of Ashley. This is something she is self-identifying herself as based on conversations she had with people that represent themselves as family members.

“The concept of our identity remains challenging”

James M. Houston has said, “we live in the memory of God,” as a way of articulating that non-drifting, non-decaying sense of self and personhood that retains its worth well after its best before date. Even when we forget who we are, we remain persons valued by the One who made us for Himself, and who sets us in families where we are to be continually reminded of this fact.

For some, amnesia… is not a solitary personal experience that drifts away in time but your identity, your self. “Who am I, what have I been doing all my life?

… We remember our own names long after we have forgotten everyone else’s. Personal identity draws upon different parts of the temporal lobe… [for] Memories are embedded, consolidated, refreshed and mislaid. They are precise or unreliable, enriched or fragmented, exposed or repressed, honest or deceptive.

Given the fragility of recollection, we can only hope that we are more than our memories. The neuropsychologist Alexander Luria once said: “A man does not consist of memory alone. He has feeling, will, sensibility, moral being … It is here … you may touch him, and see a profound change.

We might not consist of memory alone, but without memory our identity does not consist at all. Montague’s hope that we are “more than our memories” is not certain at all in this day where we are losing something more substantive to define who we are. By that I mean “to define us as persons of worth.”

In early September I will post “What am I [worth] if I am not thinking?” – as a way of further exploring what it means to be a person if/when we suffer from memory decay and diminishing thinking acuity.  All this is the effort to explore the mystery of our worth in the One who loves us, and who makes it possible to love ourselves and others.

Without our sense of identity and worth, we envision dystopias from Mad Max to The Matrix, from 1984 to A Clockwork Orange. It appears that our vast imagination cannot handle the pandemonium that results from a lost memory of who we are (or is it: who we are to be?).

Memory and Amnesia:

For more see “Memory and Amnesia in the Movies.” One of the movies noted is Memento – probably one of the most extreme, difficult, and gritty movies I have ever seen; it is a profound depiction of the lack of self-awareness – the chaos of lost memory and identity and character.

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