I posted a Facebook note about a memorial service for a 91 year old woman. One of her high school friends, using a walker to get around, told stories about their teenage escapades with such freshness and vigor that they might have happened last week. It was a reminder that in the minds of the elderly are memories of other days that are as vividly present as if they were now. The post generated a lot of comments. One was about a visit to an 87 year old parishioner who talked about being a 17 year old girl with 70 years of experience. What a joyful, joy filled way to live into one’s years, but not everyone enjoys them. Some memories of youthful escapades would better be forgotten, but they can’t. Nevertheless, they’re vividly present. Our memories, all mixed up, reside somewhere in unknown recesses. Sometimes we can call them forth. Just as often, they pop up randomly, nailing us with unexpected, unwanted broadsides, or delighting us with unbounded joy.
It’s hard, I think, for the young to understand. When I was a boy, my dad would show photographs and tell stories about growing up on the Kansas prairie during the Depression. The funny old trucks and cars, strange clothing, and old fashioned backdrops were as ancient history to me. It was hard to believe he was so old that he had lived in those times. What was he then? In his thirties, forties? Later, as a young adult, he and I visited a ship, now a museum, on which he had served during WWII. His tears flowed. There were parts of it he couldn’t enter, and some he had to. It didn’t occur to me, even as an adult, that something that happened so long ago could have such an effect. I wondered then if it had anything to do with his photographic record in black and white, while I lived in a world of color. Two generations living different worlds separated by Kodachrome and television. It’s an interesting thought even now, but wide of the mark.
Now in my mid-seventies, I realize how recent were the days of my youth, and how current the memories. The old woman’s claim about being a 17 year old girl with 70 years experience makes perfect sense. Dad’s black and white photos, the ship visit, my own escapades and adventures, were not a long time ago in another world of another time. They were yesterday, a yesterday that is not yet gone. It makes me wonder about the memories of friends who served in Vietnam, and the memories we are creating in those we keep sending into battle for reasons we can’t quite explain.
A friend, now in his eighties, was once a well known NFL player. He may be slow and stiff with a hard time hearing, but in his mind lives the same person who can run, catch, dodge, and leap for the end zone. Another, now thirty years sober, has as her constant companion the young and foolish drunk of her youth. It doesn’t diminish the good times she had, nor does it threaten the good times ahead. For good or for ill, our memories remain as fresh today as they were fifty or sixty years ago, maybe more. They are a part of who we are, and they have tremendous power over us. But it need not be determinant power. The past does not have to dictate our future, even as we engage in creating future memories by what we are doing today.
Paul was able to tell his readers in Philippi that he was could forget what lay behind, pressing on toward what lay ahead. How could he? He imprisoned whole families, helped murder an innocent man, and had a terrible temper. What he had in mind was the fullness of redemption, already his in Christ Jesus, but not yet fully realized. That’s a hard sell. Not everyone can buy it. Yet that’s what Jesus is about. In every one of his acts of healing, he created a new future freed from the constraints of the past. Never more so than when he forgave sin, for it is sin that creates the haunting memories assaulting our souls. Jesus never erased the past, but the healing grace of God poured into one’s life removed its power to dictate the future. It is the holy power of holy resilience. What God did then, God still does.
Can that power be ours without God? To an extent, yes. There’s a strong movement in our community to teach resilience skills to children who have endured psychologically damaging Adverse Childhood Events (ACES) . They’ve developed a promising track record. The local VA mental health clinic continues to work on ways to treat post traumatic stress among their clients, and I’ve spent the last sixteen years working with first responders on critical incident stress management.
There are tools at hand and skills to be learned that can help redirect the power of memories in less harmful, more positive ways. They work, but they work better when supplementing the powerful work of the Spirit offering the fullness of God’s redemption and reconciliation. In a society where half are disinterested in what God in Christ Jesus has offered, it isn’t that easy to explain. It’s made harder by some of the other half, Christians who have shackled Christ with rules, regulations, dogma, and prejudice, restricting his grace to a few while condemning the rest. They create their own narrow doors, insisting that everyone has to walk through them before Jesus will help. It ignores the Jesus who allowed anyone and everyone to come to him without a single rule or regulation to get in their way.
I’m digressing again. Memories. Let them be redeemed by God’s love, treasured, informing but not dictating our futures. And may each of us delight in the youth that is still ours, regardless of what our bodies might say.