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Back when I joined the Perspectives magazine Board of Editors in 2000 (which even now does not sound all that long ago), I was struck by what a good many of the Board’s members shared when we went around the circle for our “check-in” time of updating each other on family and career. Several people, whom I did not regard as that much older than I all things considered, were talking about having just become “empty nesters” or how within a year or two, the last kid would be out of high school. At the time, that seemed unreal to me. Hard to imagine. I had just returned from a sabbatical in Princeton after having been in ministry ten years. My two kids were in 3rd Grade and pre-school. Just being at the Perspectives retreat for a few days meant that back home, my wife was extra busy keeping up with lunches and laundry and bedtime routines.
Well, the Lord willing, before I post another entry here on The Twelve, my two kids will have both graduated. My older daughter will be graduating from college, my son from high school. We have a somewhat busy stretch coming up family-wise, and I am left to wonder how we even got here. At times and with chagrin, I realize upon seeing a photo from some years ago or watching a snatchet of a family video that I have a hard time really remembering when the kids were little. There are so few typical days I can recall with any vividness. It makes me sad.
Last night our son had his final orchestra concert. During each of the four pieces they played, I tried extra hard to keep my focus on my son, to watch him move his fingers along the fret and saw the bow back and forth because it is likely this moment will never come again. Unless something changes, I won’t ever see him play his cello in an orchestra again.
But then, no moment ever comes again. They come and go and except for the more striking of vivid occurrences in our lives, so many of the moments are lost to us in terms of active recall.
At Calvin Seminary this Spring Semester we read the Lois Lowry adolescent novel The Giver. If you are familiar with this book, then you know that the role of memory plays a prominent part in the story. Most of the people in Lowry’s dystopic future have lost most all active memory of the past. Those memories reside in one and only one person in the community: The Receiver. This person–who lives mostly secluded from ordinary folks–at some point becomes The Giver when the time comes for him to retire and pass along the world’s collective memories to a newly appointed Receiver. But it soon becomes clear in the novel that without memories, people are somehow less than human. If not having memories of terrible things like warfare or disease protects them from pain, this same phenomenon also inoculates them against feeling true love.
In any event, our Seminary community had a lively discussion about this book at our Town Hall meeting a few weeks ago. One thing we eventually tumbled to was one of the nicer features of the otherwise controversial theological school of thought known as Process Theology. One aspect of this theology I have always liked is the idea of God as The Great Remembrancer, as the One who tenderly prehends into God’s self our every moment, preserving it as the precious part of our existence that each such moment can be.
I find it a hopeful scenario that God remembers all those moments in even my family’s life that I now seem to have a harder time calling vividly back to mind. How did my children talk, how did their voices sound, how did their minds work 4, 7, 10, 15 years ago? In our Father’s kingdom, perhaps the day will come when I can see and relish all that again.
When my wife and I got married, my best man made a toast at the reception. He summoned for us all the Our Town scene where Emily is able to re-live a single day from her life but in so doing, realizes how much we all miss all the time. “Why don’t we look at each other? Oh, doesn’t anyone ever live his or her life every, every moment?” Emily’s guide replies that no, mostly not. Saints and poets, they maybe do some.
Since I was a seminary student and my wife was getting her Masters in English, my friend hoped we’d fit the “saints and poets” category and maybe do better living every, every moment and remembering each such moment with relish. Alas, I am not so sure we have done much better than anyone else.
But in the long run, perhaps the One who spans yesterday, today, and tomorrow will be a help and comfort to us. At least for this moment, I find that comforting.