When an event of great historical or emotion consequence occurs, we don’t just remember when —we remember the precise moment, what we were doing, whom we were with, and even what the weather was like. Scientists call these memories “flashbulb” memories. The name is apt; we remember with almost photographic accuracy.
Remember When You Heard
Like everyone else I know, I remember with absolute clarity the moment I heard about a plane hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11. It wasn’t a moment of comprehension of a great tragedy. On my way inside my church for a meeting, I saw a friend looking puzzled. She’d just hear on the radio that a plane hat hit the tower. We wondered what size plane was involved, thinking in terms of a piper cub to private jet.
I also remember later standing under a cloudless blue sky, stomach and limbs aching with horror, dread, fear, and grief, affixing my happy-mom face as the school bus slowed to a stop with my young children.
Such moments merit preservation and sharing, not only because they are of personal interest to your loved ones; they also bring home a universal experience. When you remember when you learned of the events of 9/11, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., or John F. Kennedy, you’re allowing your readers to walk in your shoes. They go with you as you describe how your comparatively mundane day was transformed. They’ll get it—viscerally.
Remember When: Personal Tragedy and Trauma
As described in 3 Types of Treasured Moments to Write About,the same goes for when we remember when we experienced a moment of personal tragedy or trauma. When you include your memories of critical moments—that phone call in the night, knock on the door, feeling of foreboding, or fear—you enrich your narrative.
For instance, when I heard my sister’s voice on the phone in the middle of the night, I assumed she needed my husband’s advice on some massive household mechanical failure. It would have never occurred to me that she would be calling to tell me our parents were killed. Revealing that type of detail in your narrative helps your readers comprehend the shock you experienced when you “remember when.”
Similar “flashbulbs” went off as we experienced moments of great joy, like witnessing the birth of a child. Do you remember when you first saw your child? Do you remember when you crossed the finish line? Do you remember when they called your name? Write about these moments and memories!
So, what do you remember?
© Laura Hedgecock 2013
 Roger Highfield, “9/11 study Reveals How Flashbulb Memories Form,” www.telegraph.co.uk, December 15, 2006, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3350048/911-Study-Reveals-How-Flashbulb-Memories-Form.html