I’m trying to do better at staying connected to the best moments of my past. I am trying not to let hard-won insights slip away into oblivion. I believe, in other words, in remembering.
Not that I’m all that good at it. With the creeping effects of middle age I have to work harder than ever to remember the name of someone I’ve just met. And I rush headlong, some days, from one task to another, not savoring an accomplishment or learning from a mistake. Things get buried in an avalanche of busyness.
But I want to get more intentional about the everyday wonders that sometimes come my way. I don’t want to wallow in dreamy nostalgia. Yet I also know that I too often neglect to draw sustenance from my past.
I find some practices help me here. Like writing in a journal every few days. I started jotting things down years ago. I had been walking down the aisles of a bookstore, and when a display of blank books caught my eye, I began to leaf through one. My wife offhandedly said, “Maybe you should think about keeping a journal.” I bought one, thinking only to experiment. But soon I was writing a page or two every few days, recording events I noticed or insights I wanted to remember. I wrote about nights awake with our newborn, about struggles in my relationship with my extended family, about prayers that seemed to get answered.
And the writing itself is just a part of the benefit. Every now and then I pull out a volume from an earlier era in my life, reconnecting to what otherwise would lie forgotten. I may trace through my memories a pattern with bigger meaning, perhaps even outlines of a hand of Providence.
I’m also trying to make room for remembering out loud with other people. I have come to relish the old stories of my friends. And as a clergyman, I get a front row seat to my parishioners’ everyday triumphs. They tell me about their discouraged times and their epiphanies. Sometimes my asking them to tell their stories helps them rediscover old truths. Sometimes my vicarious remembering with them blesses me.
And then—driving to work, drifting to sleep at night, walking in the Tennessee woods near my home—an image from the past may drift into the rooms of my thoughts: I recall the quiet evening when I was a child, say, sitting alone in the living room watching the blinking Christmas tree lights, a warmth and peace blanketing me. Or I call to mind the unexpected IRS bill that got taken care of, somehow. Or the day, sitting in a worship service, that I realized how cared for I really was, despite my self-doubt.
A friend called it reading life backwards. Doing so again will help me face today with a longer view. Now, if I can just remember how important this remembering business is!
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