As a young girl “she used to try to ‘fix’ moments in her memory. The notion that years of her life would pass and she would only remember snippets, seconds of the whole, distressed her.” The observation is about the character in a recent book, but it just as easily could have been written about me. For as long as I can remember, I have engaged in a futile quest to memorialize and memorize my life.
I have often thought that if I could choose any super power, it would be the possession of an impeccable memory, with the ability to recall every moment, observation, and reflection with pristine clarity. Sadly, I have not been endowed with such giftings, so I make do with endless journaling, fastidious record keeping, and obsessive photo-taking. Like the character in the book, I’ve found it has “worked, in a fashion, except [I’ve] lost the specifics of the moment—the smells, the sounds, the people, [my] mood. [I am] left with a fistful of memories, containing [my] fierce desire to will a memory.”
I’m clueless as to the origins of this desire, such beginnings themselves casualties of my faulty memory. Perhaps this unusual longing is simply a quirk of my personality, or maybe there’s more to it. Whatever the reason, I recognize in this tendency a fear that if I am unable to recall a specific memory, it somehow didn’t matter or doesn’t count. But science tells me this is far from the truth.
In a post on the purpose of forgotten memories, blogger Brianna Lambert writes, “Scientists tell us our memory is like a web. As we learn and live our neurons fire off to make connections between various experiences and terms. . . . As we experience each connection again and again, that link grows even stronger.”
Even when the specifics of our memories have been absorbed by the past, their existence leaves their imprint on our lives. My hope is rekindled by the knowledge that that even the most buried memories hold their purpose, setting the stage for all that is and is to come.
As anxious as I am to hold onto my own memories, I feel an even greater responsibility to do so for my children. I want to preserve every moment of their young lives, at least until they are old enough to begin carrying their memories for themselves. I shudder to think of the milestones and precious moments with them that are already shadows of memory that grow dimmer by the day. I want to be able to tell my grown children exactly what they were like, recounting every hilarious antic and painful lesson and identifying trait . . . and while I will be able to share the highlights, far too many will eventually be lost to time and the frailties of my own recollection.
In her book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, Sara Hagerty shares of a similar feeling regarding her children’s memories. Sara mourned her own absence from important (and unimportant) moments of her adopted daughter’s infancy and toddlerhood. But Sara took comfort in knowing that even if she was not present for her daughter’s first word, steps, or smiles, there was Someone who was—Someone who could cherish those memories more deeply, and preserve them more carefully, than a human mother ever could. Sara could not recall the memories herself, but she was able to introduce her daughter to The One who could. And Sara saw that, “to children whose pasts seemed unwitnessed (because isn’t so much of parenting making yourself a witness in those day-to-day moments?), having a God who remembers unlocks something inside of them.”
Sara Hagerty’s children learned something I too am starting to understand: that our lives have not gone unwitnessed. We have a Father who has observed every second of our lives and can recall each fragment with the utmost intimacy and clarity. He cradles the memories we’ve had to relinquish, cherishing them and using them to greater purpose than we could imagine. He has searched us and knows us, and He will continue to do so. We don’t need to grasp so fervently to our memories; we need only to grasp tightly to Him as He treasures our recollections on our behalf.
Without our remembering and sometimes without our even noticing, the Lord has etched His stedfast kindness and love into every crevice of our brains, our hearts, our souls, our families, our lives. We might not recollect the details, but we can trust the One who does. And we can rest assured in the knowledge that His love has left its mark.
Business note: I’ll be spending the rest of this month making memories with my family and won’t be posting next week. I’ll be back on August 2 with a fresh post. See you then!