“Memories, may be beautiful and yet…what’s too painful to remember, we simply chose to forget.” —from The Way We Were
Memories certainly can be beautiful or painful. Jack, my husband, plays Ce La Luna Mezz’o Mare (a Sicilian song) on his iPod each morning. Says it reminds him of his father, who used to sing it every morning when Jack was a child. On the other hand, he can’t bear to hear Auld Lang Syne. He cries whenever it comes unexpectedly on TV. Regardless of the setting, it reminds him of his brother’s death by massive heart attack a few years ago.
I still love the songs from the ’70s and ’80s, so many of which conjure happy memories. During a recent visit with my cousin, on a long drive through the Arizona desert with the music turned up, we sang at the top of our lungs to The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Somewhere Out There, Both Sides Now, even Cecelia with its wretched lyrics. They lightened our hearts and made us laugh. Other songs immediately darken my mood, as I am mentally transported to a harrowing time in my life.
Today, I’m thinking of my father, who has Alzheimer’s, and my mom, who died of vascular dementia among other problems. I’m thinking of my friend Sue’s dad and my friend Lorilie’s mom, who both suffer from dementia, along with a couple other people I know. In terms of memories, dementia is no respecter of persons. It plays with memories, rearranges them, or simply wipes them out, like washing chalk from a sidewalk. They say people with Alzheimer’s can’t remember their last sentence but they can give you a play-by-play of their childhood. Unfortunately my dad can’t do even that.
I am healthy for the time being (to the best of my knowledge), yet I speed toward my own ultimate death far too quickly. Each day I rack up more memories—some good some bad, but all “me.” While I say I would like to wipe out certain memories, losing them means losing a part of what makes me who I am today. It would also disable my ability to relate in the same way with others, with whom I have long histories.
Our relationships with other people, even with God, depend heavily on our memories. That’s what makes Revelation 21:4 a bit baffling, with its promise of no more tears, mourning or sorrow:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning
or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
I like the last phrase of this verse, that someday “the old order of things” will pass away. Many Christians I’ve spoken with feel that God will one day wipe out our memories…all those remembrances and reflections that currently cause us to wince in mental anguish. But I’m a firm believer that you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. As much as I loath certain memories, some of the events they represent are what drove me to my knees in repentance before Christ. Like the woman in Luke 7, the recognition of my sins creates great love in my heart for my Redeemer. “But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little,” the story ends. Some things, I never want to forget.
No, I don’t think our memories will be wiped clean. I believe there will be a new order entirely, one that incorporates our memories – at least our Christian beginnings – in a way that right now we can’t fathom. It drives me crazy, sometimes, not being able to figure things out; yet I love the fact that God is beyond my reach. I don’t want a God I can understand. Just a God who can hold my memories lightly, not condemn me because of them, and love me in spite of them.