We are born time travelers. The earth spins and we hurtle through the years. We breathe, act, decide, love, and create. We do all of it in the present. That’s all we have. Today only comes around once, so we experience life as it comes, each moment precious and brief.
In this way, we travel through time, moment built upon moment. But the journey of life is much richer than the simple now. The quality of our sojourning, at least in part, is rooted in our ability to embrace the art of remembrance. For we arrive to the present laden with hearts full of memory waiting to give meaning to our days.
Remembering is often so hard. For a long time I chose to forget. Several years ago I discovered that my default orientation to pain and suffering is to run faster into the future while actively forgetting the past. For a while this worked. I lived, created, built relationships and a life. I didn’t know it then, but I did all of that with half a heart. The half that could feel deeply, experience true joy, true agony, no longer worked. In the forgetting, in the numbing I learned to survive. I forgot how to live.
Everything changed when a friend and mentor asked me a simple question. “What’s your story?” he asked. I began relaying my list of achievements and simple facts about where I was from, places I had lived, jobs I had. When we got to the part of my story where I was a soldier in a war he paused and said, “Tell me more about that. What happened to you there?” I didn’t know what he meant and I stumbled through an answer. In that question my friend invited me on a journey of learning to remember.
One of the things I have learned on this journey is the significance of set aside remembering days. Sometimes we need time to slow down so that the space between the past and present is suddenly thin. On these days, the mundane activities of life fade into the background as the beauty, pain, images, people, events, and feelings of yesterday take center stage. I have grown to both cherish and dread these remembering days. When I slow down and remember, my heart awakens to real things and I feel deeply once again. I feel joy and sorrow rushing into my numbed consciousness and I know that I am alive. I look forward to the joy, remembering little things about someone I loved – a favorite phrase, a smile, the goodness of their presence. At nearly the same instance I feel the jolting dagger of sorrow piercing deeply into flesh and soul, for the life lost, the things left undone, the things that will not be.
This weekend is a remembering day for me. For most of the eighteen years that have passed since I returned from war I paid no attention to Memorial Day. It was just another blur in the racetrack of my movement forward. But then my friend invited me on a journey of story and remembrance. So in these last few years I choose to slow down, and become a time traveler once again. I pull out pictures. I sit on my porch and read their names. I tell my loved ones this part of my story. I tell their stories. For a moment I let myself feel the real sorrow and joy that I shoved down into the recesses of my soul for so long. On my day of remembrance, my friends are with me again even if for a moment and then they leave once again. But they leave me a little more whole. For when the remembering brings a rush of life it heals me a little more each time. I’m less afraid of pain and more weary of returning to a life without feeling.
So this weekend I raise a glass to my friends who left too soon. You are not forgotten. And your memory still brings me life. Until we meet again dear ones, I’ll keep traveling back to see you.