My husband was uncharacteristically silent after our church service on New Year’s Eve. After the kids had finally gone to bed — for real this time, without the tromp of footsteps down the stairs announcing one last drink of water or one last comment about Pokemon — we nestled into the rare quiet, and he ventured to assign words to his jumble of emotions. “That last hymn stirred up a thought,” he said.
His answer surprised me, as the hymn was a favorite in our family worship time. “Be Thou My Vision?” I said. “Why in particular? Something about the lyrics?”
“No. I was thinking about how I used to sing that to the kids when they were babies. They obviously don’t remember, and you were working at the hospital. It’s a memory that no one remembers except me.”
As he spoke, a forlornness seemed to hang in the air. That memory belonged only to him, and eventually it would disappear entirely as a soap bubble thins and breaks in a strong gust.
That same fragile sense of loss and loneliness lingered the following day at our breakfast table, when our dear friend visited for a subdued New Year’s Day brunch of eggs Benedict. We cradled our coffee cups, leaned into the steam coiling in a pale beam of sunlight, and listened as he journeyed through snippets of his past. As his wife had gone to be with the Lord months earlier, there was an urgency and a tenderness to his reminiscences compared with prior visits. The details arose from memory in sharper relief, recruiting all the senses for nuance. He turned over images as if delicately flipping the pages in a crumbling photo album, the edges curled and the ink yellowed, barely touching a treasured face, a beloved house, lest they vanish like a plume of dust disturbed, scattered, and gone. Throughout, we laughed, and leaned in, and paused to savor moments we knew were intimate, cherished, and touched with God’s kindness, as if we’d stumbled into the golden, hushed light of His temple and held our breath as we marveled.
Our kids sat at the same table during this procession of memories, and their presence somehow brought healing. The memories wouldn’t wither away with our friend. Although their full vitality, scent, and texture were his alone, his images would pass to young minds who would remember the sunlight streaming through the window, remember the smiling man over coffee, and recall that he’d climbed waterfalls in Jamaica with the wife he adored, and bought hot dogs for a nickel at Yankee Stadium. The sharing of the memories breathed new life into them, and as they drew in light and air they bloomed and turned their newly shining faces heavenward.
Such moments remind us of the power of sharing our memories. Locked away in our own storehouses, these fragile glimmers threaten to drift away like milkweed silk in the autumn wind. When shared, they take on form, substance, and longevity. There is beauty in remembering. There is charity, as we cleave to what has mattered, to people who’ve mattered.
And there is peace as we cling to the truth that our Lord, who fashioned us from the dust, who knows every hair on our heads, always remembers. He numbers our days and knows our every coming and going. He remembers what our feeble minds cannot hold. Even when we falter, even when we fail, his steadfast love and faithfulness endure. Even when we forget, he remembers.
And so, the frail images we so desperately seek to reassemble in fragments and shadows, they endure. When we offer our memories to others like old gifts newly wrapped, they retain a hint of their elegance, a faint gleam still visible beneath the tarnish. And when we fail to give words to the fleeting pictures in our minds, the Lord’s grace his sufficient. He remembers, even when we cannot. And his steadfast love endures forever.