THE GIFT OF LOST MEMORY 6-7-17
In the process of down-sizing to fit into a condo, I threw away hundreds of cards and letters, almost three file drawers worth. They came from former students and colleagues in campus ministry, from fellow clergy around the world, from other writers, from former parishoners, from friends in all walks of life.
I read each one, thought about that writer and the circumstances that prompted the letter, and then dropped it into the recycling bin. There was no point in saving them anymore. My wife or daughters will have to sort through everything that is left when I die. These cards and letters will not mean anything to them. They don’t know who wrote them, or what prompted them to say what they did. One gift I can give those who must turn the lights off when I am gone is to put my friends into the recycling.
The largest number of those letters that went into recycling was from fellow cancer survivors. I can remember only a few of them. Most were short-term relationships, although some were clearly quite intense over their short duration. People struggling, quite literally, with issues of life and death, and the meaning of “those two imposters.” Most of the relationships started when someone read my book  or heard me speak at a cancer conference. They wanted to reach out to someone they were sure understood what they were feeling.
Strangely, I am hanging onto more mementoes from my high school days than from my cancer days. Well, not just the mementos, but the memories themselves.
Some brain research indicates that we hold onto early memories better than later ones because our brains are simply better when we are young—more pliant, more accepting. Those early memories get in there and stick. New memory possibilities just bounce off brittle old brains. Or something like that.
This may explain why we old people can remember what we had for breakfast sixty years ago but not what we had for lunch today. Or why we can remember the name of our first grade teacher but not our second wife.
But does it make any difference? A memento—a letter or a photo or a toy—is useful for jarring a memory loose, but sooner or later we shall have to let go of both the mementos and the memories.
That sounds like a downer, and in a way it is. I think, though, that the loss of memento and memory is God’s way of reminding us that life in this body is fleeting. We dare not put our trust in this life and its memories, but only in God, both for the present and for the future. If we get too attached to the past we are not able to go forward.
I tweet as yooper1721.
1] NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them