There have been blessings in my life that I didn’t deserve, all because I have a strong memory. A strong memory meant high grades, impressive test scores, a large vocabulary, all those things that put a person on a prosperous path.
Memory has served me in my adult life as well. I am fortunate to have an easy time remembering names. I also tend to remember details and stories from people’s lives. When I am at my best I notice and remember people, which I believe is all most of us really want. Even so, sometimes I pretend I don’t remember things, almost ashamed by the way details stick to my brain.
The downside of memory is that there are thousands of things I can’t forget. Every embarrassment follows me around, wounding comments gnaw at me from years past. I suppose most people save space for their memories of brokenness. I lament that mine sit alongside memories of hurting others, of misplaced anger, foolish impulsiveness, and selfish fear. Most of my good behavior is inspired by the knowledge that whatever I do will follow me around the rest of my life.
Tonight I finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera, which, based on my love of Marquez’ other great work, I should have read years ago. His work is saturated with memory, and this book in particular navigates the straits between memory and reality with a poignancy that made me weep.
Memory is what keeps us up at night missing people. It’s what lights the dark as past joys dance across our heart, across time. Memory saddens us, full as it is of decisions and crossroads. It refines us, as we see those choices not as doors closing but as life whittling us into sharper, finer points.
At sundown Thursday the Church will enter the Triduum, its commemoration of Jesus’ final days. We will come together to remember events of which we have no memory. Tied up in our collective memories will be smaller individual ones: the voice of a loved one singing a hymn, an absent hand once held on the pew, the younger face of an aging cleric who holds the cross we venerate.
This was part of our marching orders: do this in memory of me. Was it simple conceit that prompted Jesus to institute the sacrament of his memory? Is it no different from my silly desire to leave a mark on the world, to be remembered?
I hope it was more than this, for all of our sakes. When we remember God among us, living a life of friendship and service and love, we participate in it again. Maybe we even see again the grandeur of our call to live like Christ. We gather to remember, like at an Irish wake, and the person who is gone is suddenly among us again.