Remembering Is What We Are Meant To Do
It is only a whiff of an image: a sunny Sunday afternoon in summer, early 1960s. I step into the backyard of my grandparents' house on Detroit's east side, accompanied by my father and his parents. They are all speaking Ukrainian, while my grandparents show us the garden where tomatoes and other produce is growing. Grandfather takes notice of me, but I remember nothing else. I did not really know him much, and today I regret that.
I have a few images of my maternal grandfather, who died at 62 when I was four. I recall him seated in his chair in his living room. It was "pay day" when he would invite his grandchildren to pass in line before him as he handed out coins from his pocket. Another time, I recall him handing me a hammer to drive in a nail in the sub-flooring of the attic of our house, which he, a carpenter, was turning into a bedroom. (I failed.) I also picture him sitting in our basement on a stool while Dad gave him a haircut.
His wife, my grandmother, lived 23 more years as a widow, the last days of her life spent in a hospital bed in the same living room in which "pay day" took place, in the same house where I was first brought home as a newborn from the hospital. On her last day, my grandmother asked to hold my 17-month-old son. She raised him up above her face, smiled at him and called him by his name.
My son doesn't remember this, but I remember it for him, just as my mother, who turned 96 this week, remembers things about her father for me. She has filled out a more complete picture of him than my memories allow, including his faith, sense of humor, aspirations, character, and love for his family. Her memory is now my memory, which through her and her grandparents stretches back into the late 1800s, which I can pass on.
Hearing my mother reminisce with her younger cousin about the street on which they lived and the times in which they grew up, I suddenly saw history on a human scale. My mother and her cousin can tell me things about their grandmother, born in the late 1860s, and I can pass them on to my grandchildren more than 150 years later. They are links in a chain of human history. Families are the carriers of memory.
Take a room of 20 select people (both living and deceased) who have such deep memories and have passed them on and you might be able to spin a continuous narrative thread from the Birth at Bethlehem, to the Upper Room, the persecutions of Nero, the Council of Nicaea, the missions to the barbarians, to Asia, and beyond till the present day. Twenty centuries of a coherent history contained in the memories of 20 people is not too hard to imagine in the one family of the Church.
In the Church, others help to remember things for us. We all share the apostolic memory of Jesus Christ--his Life, Death, and Resurrection. His sayings, miracles, character, love and authority. What man is designed for is inclusion in the one and only eternal family of the Father. To be born again, to become the sons of God, to stake a claim on the divine memory is to be saved: "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom."
Of course, in the Church on earth there are disputed memories and disagreements, and discernment is required. But we are family, and that's a word to ponder, for it is unlike any other relationship that we know of. This family has a home, a memory, and a harmony it may experience as each person plays a unique and irreplaceable role in concert with others, all united in love to the one Head.
Today, my grandson, just four, came over to my garden and helped me pick cucumbers, beans, radishes, and strawberries. Later, he may or may not remember doing this with me. We sometimes try to "capture" memories by taking photographs, but making memories doesn't always work.
More often, memories make us, for good or for ill, for memories on their own can encourage or haunt us. Acquiring the mind of Christ is paramount, for he will show us the Father, our one and only true eternal Home, while the former things pass away in the healing of memory and we are truly born again. Our daily struggle is to remember this often and speak about it and listen, in prayer and in hearing the Word of God.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.