Monday, May 25, 2009

As my father grew older, he began to suffer from significant
memory loss. One day I went to visit him in the care home
where he was living. I found him in the dining room sitting
in his wheelchair. He saw me as I walked in, recognized me,
said, ¨Can you help me? I can´t remember anything! I have
no past!¨

His distress was evident. There was a note of panic in his
voice. Things that had anchored him firmly throughout his
80-plus years were now somehow gone. He was cut adrift
on a dark, shapeless sea. And there seemed to be no
land in sight. It was a terrible moment for him.

Recalling that moment, I have often wondered what would
it be like to be able to remember ¨nothing,¨ to forget where
you were born, where you had lived, what you had done in
your life, whom you had known and loved? And there is
something truly frightening about the possibility of no longer
remembering your life, simply because remembering your
life has a lot to do with what it means to live in the present.
How we live today is very much guided by events we have
witnessed, people whom we have known, decisions that we
have made, manners and customs that we have learned,
in the past. Memory is an anchor that helps to keep us from
drifting lost and abandoned on a stormy sea of confusion.

Henry Ford once said, ¨History is bunk,¨ which I take to
mean that he considered history to be unimportant. But
really, that statement is ¨bunk.¨ History is very relevant.
It keeps us on track. This is especially so with regard to
our own personal histories. You are who you are, in large
part, because of your history. When you find yourself having
to say ¨I have no past,¨ you are really saying that you have
lost yourself in the present. How can I know who I am, if I
cannot remember who I was? When I cease to remember,
do I not, in some sense, cease to be myself? Who are you if
you cannot remember who your parents are, or where they
were born, or if you cannot remember where you yourself
were born, whether or not you are married, etc.?

I spent quite a bit of time that day with my father, trying
to help him remember his past. With a little bit of prompting,
he began to remember people and events from his life and
even from his childhood. I simply repeated back to him
many of the stories that he had told me and he began to
remember. His past was all still there, but it had become
very difficult to access. Once he realized that it had not
disappeared, he was once again ¨himself ¨ and we passed
a fine day together.

Human beings enter this world, ¨not in entire forgetfulness¨
but ¨trailing clouds of glory,¨ as the English poet William
Wordsworth has wisely said. We enter with certain things
already programmed into our minds and hearts and souls,
a certain amount of memory already on the hard-drive.
When those who have never heard of the Bible, of the Law
or the Gospel, of the Ten Commandments or the Letter to
the Galatians, or who have heard of it but do not believe it,
when those folks somehow find themselves feeling anger at
the injustices that they see in the world around them, or
hoping that there really is a world beyond this one, in that
moment they reveal that they have not come ¨in entire
forgetfulness.¨ Rather, they show ¨the work of the law
written in their hearts¨ (Romans 2:15). In that moment,
they are remembering something of who they really are.

God has this witness written in every human heart. In a
very real sense, there is no such thing as an atheist. At
some level, everyone knows that there is God, that He is
good, and that we are all going to be held accountable to
Him. When people, and whole cultures, begin to try
to cut themselves off from that deeper memory that
God has planted within them, they begin to drift lost
on an endless sea of confusion. Witness the palpable
moral drift of Canadian culture.

Of course, it is not just a matter of remembering.
Something very deeply rooted within us must change.
We must be given something that by nature we cannot
have. But beginning to remember, beginning to
understand that there are things hidden deep within us
that we need to access, that we need to remember, is
often the very first step on the road home. Memory,
the deepest kind of God-given memory, helps to
point the way.