Monthly Archives: May 2022

The Art of Remembrance

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.

Passenger Parenting

You never see the big moments coming. Life kind of just moves and then suddenly something changes. In those moments you realize that the categories you held close, the ones that made sense of things, no longer apply.

I had one of those life moving, category shifting moments a few weeks ago. I should have seen it coming. She was obviously changing and growing. The girl was fading, the woman becoming. I overheard her talking while in her online driver’s education course. I listened as she recounted her first harrowing experience on the freeway with a stranger, a driving instructor in the passenger seat. I saw the learner’s permit she now carries in the back of her pink phone case. All of this should have clued me in that big things were changing. They didn’t. My category for my daughter simply couldn’t hold them. She is my little girl. I take her places. She needs me to navigate the world. She needs me to cut the edges off of her peanut butter and jelly. How could she be old enough to drive?

And then it happened. She climbed into the driver’s seat. I slid into the passenger’s seat. We buckled up. I gripped the handle next to the door made for parent’s in this very situation. My knuckles were white I think. She asked, “Daddy are you okay?” “I will be.” I replied. She pulled out onto the road and right then it hit me, “Things are different now.” It’s not just that she’s learning to drive. She’s learning to leave. And that’s a beautiful and gut wrenching thing all at once. 

The other significant thing that I realized is that I’m the passenger now. In the car and in life, she’s behind the wheel. Her feet are on the pedals. She’s making big decisions, where to turn, how fast to go, and when to stop. I’m along for the ride. I don’t have any pedals. All I have is my voice and my presence. In the car I’m learning that calm, gentle, guidance is the way to sit in my new seat. “You might want to think about slowing down now.” I hear myself saying. She glances at me, a little smile, nervous eyes shoot my way and then back on the road. I’m still in the car. She needs me there. But I have to let her drive.

This sudden realization that my little girl is the driver and I the passenger blew apart my categories of parent and child. With shocking clarity I had the epiphany that my orientation to being her Dad needed to mirror my role in her training to drive.

There are three principles I’m trying hard to remember right now:

  1. My best posture is as a non-anxious presence. Be in the car.
  2. My time in this seat is short. One day soon she will drive off without me. This time is a gift.
  3. Encourage more than I criticize. She needs to borrow my courage right now.

I’ll admit that sliding into the passenger seat in her life still doesn’t feel right sometimes. She talks about her day, the people she knows, the things she is doing, and I want to grab the wheel. Sometimes I still do but I’m learning to let go and just be there. In the car and in life.