Memories are strange things. Many of them fade over time within our own mind, but they also collectively fade. I remember different times I spent alone with my grandparents. They have both since died, so I am the only one left carrying those memories. Someday I will also die and those particular memories will be gone.
I could try to fight against the fading of memory, but it would be futile. My grandfather served in World War II and he told me a few stories from his time in the Pacific theater. He remembered playing baseball on a small black-sand volcanic island and succumbing to heat stroke. I only remember him telling me about it. Memories wear away. If they are significant memories, the residue is left as history. Otherwise, they disappear — as far as we know — altogether.
It is significant to share a memory with someone, not in the telling of it, but in having been there together when it was created. “Do you remember when we…?” is a way to express the bond that was created through a certain event. They are sometimes painful, sometimes funny, sometimes significant merely for having been there together.
When I think of my mom and my grandparents, I find it isn’t life-changing events that I remember so much. (How many of those do we have?) I remember what could only rightly be called trivial events and impressions. As the three of them have passed from this life over the last 13 years, it has given me greater appreciation for my day to day living. If the Lord should allow me to live many more years, someday when I’m sitting around looking back over my life, much as now, it will be the little snippets that I hang on to most dearly.
Some people, maybe more so in past generations, seemed to try to keep memories alive by telling the stories. I haven’t noticed that as much in recent years, but maybe I just haven’t spent enough time with senior citizens lately. I’m much more empathetic toward elderly widows now then I’m sure I was when I visited them as a young pastor 20 years ago.
I have deliberately tried not to cultivate some memories. I have purposefully not recorded dates of many significant events as I want to leave the date unmarred by the events of the past as much as possible. I remember some of the attacks I endured in Iraq, but not all of them. I didn’t record how many times or on what dates. Whatever can survive on its own in my mental garden is enough. If the weeds of time and other experiences overtake them, so be it.
God, of course, remembers everything that has ever happened to anyone. I wonder what it will be like to see him face to face. Will we get debriefed on our lives by the Father? Will he start with, “Do you remember when you were born? No? Well, I do. Would you like to hear about it?” In him memory will never fade. All of our joys and sorrows will not only be kept, but held dear, as by one who was also there, who also felt the pain and the happiness.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:16 (ESV)