Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 12

Chapter 14


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Chapter 13: Compound Memories: Piecing Together the Story

            At times, one memory alone does not tell the entire story of a person’s lifestyle. Adler writes, “One childhood recollection is sometimes not clear enough. You must draw on further recollections. You can then see much more clearly; you find what they have in common.”[1] If you collect more than one memory from an individual, you may find that the different memories not only have certain themes in common, but that they also tell complementary parts of a story and, when taken together, that they paint a full picture. One man remembered sitting in a toy fort in his backyard. Behind him was his house, in front of him was a privacy fence that blocked off the view to the street, and the yard was filled with toys and shrubs. He felt content in the yard, but he also wondered about the privacy fence and what lay on the other side.

Sometimes, a single memory does not reveal the lifestyle, but two memories taken together paint the entire picture.

            In a second memory, he recalled the fence again. This time, he remembered leaving through the gate with his father and going on a long walk in their neighborhood. The walk was an adventure of seeing other passersby, looking in storefronts, observing the neighborhood and buying groceries before finally, exhausted, returning home. He remembered that when they got home and he was tired, his father picked him up and gave him a hug.
            The main connection between the two memories is the privacy fence. In the first memory, the young boy is motionless. He is sitting, protected by his fort, surrounded by the familiarity of his backyard, sheltered against the backdrop of his house and looking toward the privacy fence. His attention focuses on the fence and he wonders what is on the other side. In the second memory, he learns what is on the other side: An exhilarating and also exhausting world of adventure that eventually leads back to his very own backyard.
            As an adult, this individual saw life as a dichotomy between security and adventure: The security of the backyard, and the adventure of the neighborhood beyond the backyard; the adventure of the long walk, and the security of being embraced by his father. In his adult life, this person was always looking for a balance between security and adventure; he lived in his hometown close to his family, but enjoyed traveling extensively. He also worked part-time and consulted part-time, enjoying the security of a twenty hour per week position with benefits and the adventure of seeking out new projects and new clients.
            “Compound memories,” as I call such pairs of recollections that each tell part of a story, may have any type of moral. Recall the early memories discussed in Chapter 6 of the boy who enjoyed building a balsa wood car at Boy Scouts but who felt sad sitting in his bedroom listening to his parents argue. In these recollections, there is a contrast not only between outsiders and family, but also between activity and being at rest: “When I am busy and with my peers I am happy. When I am still, I think about the pain in my family.”
            For further practice, try to interpret the following three sets of compound memories. These are actual memories of real people. My interpretations follow at the end of this section.

Sample Compound Memories

1) Carla remembered a trip to the grocery store with her mother and brothers. It was a windy day and she believed her mother was in a hurry because she thought there would be a storm. Carla recalled many details about the grocery store, including that there were large swinging doors. She and her brothers played on some large stacks of dog food. They always played on the dog food bags when they went to the grocery store.
            In her second memory, Carla recalled that her parents were still students when she was little and that her early home was in a married students’ dormitory. There was a dumpster outside the dormitory, and she remembered going into the dumpster to play. She saw things in the dumpster – such as pieces of furniture – that were salvageable. She thought that some of her parents’ belongings had probably been salvaged from the dumpster.

2) Eric remembered that his sister was a packrat. One time, he saw her hiding a cache of candy in her dresser drawer. This wasn’t allowed, but Eric did not tell on her. In another memory, he recalled his sister hiding fruit in her dresser. He thought the fruit might spoil, so he told on her.

3) Marcus remembered being naked and running out of the house at full speed to play in the snow. His mother told him not to run out, but he went anyway. In a second memory, Marcus remembered his father teaching him how to ride a bicycle. He was riding, and his father was running with him, and his father stopped. When his father stopped, Marcus put on the brakes, and that was how he learned to brake.


1) Carla
            In both of these memories, we see a sense of exploration. Carla recalls a visit to a grocery store and an excavation of a dumpster. In the first memory she is with her mother and brothers, while in the second memory she is alone. In the first memory, she merely recalls playing. Moreover, playing on the dog food bags is a routine for her. In the second memory, she is discovering – discovering that the dumpster is full of different objects and that her parents might actually have salvaged objects from the dumpster before.
            Carla is a scholar with a Ph.D. in social sciences. With these two memories, she seems to be saying, “When I am with other people I enjoy playful routines, but my true learning and original discoveries happen when I am alone.”

2) Eric
            Both of these memories are similar. In both, Eric recalls observing his sister doing something she shouldn’t do. Even the sister’s actions – stowing away a forbidden treat – are the same in both memories. Yet, in the first instance Eric does not tell on his sister; in the second instance, he does. Eric is a watchdog. He evaluates other people’s behavior and determines whether the behavior is acceptable or whether others have gone too far.

3) Marcus
            There are some parallels between these two memories. Marcus is moving quickly in both of them – running in one memory and riding his bike in the other. As we learned in the previous discussions about motion, Marcus is probably telling us that he is ambitious. Both memories, and especially the first one, also evoke a sense of adventure.
            There is, however, a contrast between the two memories that, on closer examination, tells a deeper story. In the first memory, Marcus does not heed his mother and goes running directly into the snow. In the second memory, Marcus is cooperating with his father who is teaching him how to ride a bicycle. When his father stops, Marcus also learns how to brake. Thus, in the second memory, there are two instances of learning: Learning how to ride a bicycle, and learning how to brake a bicycle. Marcus is telling us, “I learn with my father.” By contrast, his mother’s words are unheeded, and he goes running naked into the snow; thus, “I do not learn from my mother.”

1. Superiority and Social Interest, 198.


(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)