Looking back on memories
Published 6:26 pm Friday, October 8, 2021
I chuckle at any hint that I am already moving into that stage of life. You know, the one where you strive for predictability and a more consistent life rhythm. As we age, I suspect so many of us yearn for reliable things. Perhaps because so much of our world, and our own lives, appear beyond our control.
I knew a lady 20 years ago who was 91 at the time. She had just been released from the hospital, so I asked her daughter if her mother might be up to a phone call. She said, “Well, Mom’s hearing isn’t the best. She doesn’t do too well on the phone, but she checks her email everyday at 3 p.m. Just before The Price is Right comes on.”
I thought someone doing something like that in such a regimented way was funny when in reality one could check their email at literally any time. Now, here I am with my daily after-breakfast ritual. I sit with a warm beverage and look at my Facebook “memories” page every day at exactly the same time. It only takes about five minutes. But it gives me a chance to look back at 12 years of select social media posts on whatever day.
Today, I saw a poignant photo from a year ago. On the surface, it looked like a nice picture of my wife. She’s sitting with her feet up in a chair on a hotel balcony, and she’s reading a novel on her Kindle. The sun is hitting her just right. She is dressed in stylish, resort-cool clothing. Her large sunglasses lend a hint of glamour.
If I repost or “share” that photo today, people will comment how nice and relaxed she looks. Rightly without context, they’ll say how good vacation looks for her. The story is hidden behind the large sunglasses. In reality, it was one of the most difficult weeks of her life. She was at the moment simply in-between calls in a seemingly endless barrage of medical communications. We were staying within reach of her hometown, hoping that in the thick of the Covid era a doctor would OK us to come up and visit her mother in the hospital.
But that’s a moment in time from a year ago this week. Now, her mother is gone. Our memories are so important. It has grown popular for people to philosophize that we should live only in the present moment. I get it. If we worry too much about what is ahead, we lose the precious now. If we presume the days ahead, we forget how fragile time truly is. Likewise, if all we do is absorb ourselves in memories, we aren’t of much use today.
Fact is, for my dad’s doctors and caregivers one of the early signs of his approaching dementia was the amount of time he spent looking at and showing off his photo albums. Telling and retelling familiar stories for the umpteenth time had become his favorite thing. Still, paying appropriate attention to our memories is healthy. I dare say enriching. I suppose that like in all things, balance is the key.
So, we should revisit past triumphs, trips and tribulations. There, we can smile all over again at a place in the world we once saw. We can recall cultural and historic insights we gained in our adventures. We can soak in the recollection of hills we’ve crested in life. Victories we’ve been a part of should fuel and encourage us for the present and for the days to come. They may even add satisfaction that our lives have truly mattered.
Whether we like it or not, past failures also come to mind. A natural reaction may be to push them back down and suppress them. Occasionally, it’s good for us to be reminded of the cautionary moments we’ve lived. The ones where our weaknesses, shortcomings or excesses were exposed for what they were. Lest those moments of history be repeated, we learn even from the painful past.
My hope for us all may be that we attend to our memories properly. In good measure, those looks back can be a gift. They can remind us of where we once were or where we never want to go again. They can even lend an appreciation for where we are now, and for who we have now. I wonder, how do you curate the memories of your life so that when you want to visit them, you can?
THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.