Back and to the Left

JFK shows how easily the important things fade from memory


A scene from Seinfeld always makes me laugh: Newman and Kramer rehearse a memory of Keith Hernandez spitting on them after a Mets game. The spit, Newman says, hit Cramer then ricocheted off and hit him. Jerry reconstructs the situation, showing that this “magic loogie” could never have defied physics in this way; no, there must have been a “second spitter”! “Back and to the left.” Hilarity. Watch it now. It always makes me laugh, but I never knew why it was funny.

I recently watched JFK while on vacation. Not sure how much of it is based in truth, but super good movie—and long. Seinfeld’s “Magic Loogie” scene parodies this famous scene toward the end of JFK: real-life lawyer Jim Garrison presents an alternate theory about the JFK assassination—there must have been a second and third shooter, proving a larger conspiracy involving the intelligence community and the military-industrial complex. “Back and to the left.” Director Oliver Stone said his goal in the film is to provide a “counter-myth” to the “fictional myth” presented by the United States Government.

The film released in 1991 to much controversy, high ticket sales, press coverage, fanfare and conspiracy-theory espousing and debunking. Critic Roger Ebert wrote several articles analyzing the film and the merit of counter-myth, several news outlets united to attack Oliver Stone, and even the government got involved to assuage its citizens’ fears. People couldn’t stop talking about it (it even became a Seinfeld sketch).

People go to the movies to be told a story. If it is a good story, they will believe it for as long as the movie lasts. If it is a very good story, it may linger in their memory somewhat longer. Roger Ebert

I live in 2017, watch reruns of Seinfeld before bed, and JFK on vacation, completely unaware of any of these controversies from two decades ago. It seems that any desire of Stone to provide a counter-myth was short-lived. Indeed, no one is talking about JFK anymore (except in Mexico, where Netflix has a much better selection). A riveting, engrossing, important film, that captured an entire nation, has since faded into distant memory.


In your own life, you have moments that were all-important, life-changing, formative to who you are. After a few years, you’ve likely started to doubt these moments’ power, or even forget them altogether. These moments may have been engrossing at the time, but how the most important things in life often fade from memory!

Read the story of the Exodus: Israel is rescued from the throes of slavery by God, but in no time at all they’ve forgotten him and begun to worship a golden idol. Their crucial error isn’t idolatry, but before that, they have not remembered what God has done for them.

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance 
of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. 
(Psalm 106:7–8)

Scripture’s command to “remember” is often repeated. Dozens of times in the Psalms, God’s people are told to “remember” what he has done, who he is, how good he has been. Why? Because we so easily forget. Jesus himself gave us the sacrament of communion for the express purpose of “remembering” his work on the cross. Each time you open your eyes, open your Bible, go to church, take communion, or bow your head to pray, take the time to remember previous moments with God! Do not let them fade into distant memory.

This is my body, broken for you. 
Do this to remember me. (1 Corinthians 11:24)