It was a night to remember. We had just finished a hard day's work on the aging house, tearing off the 1950's siding to reveal the original narrow lap siding that would be painted in time for the fall wedding. The whole family was involved in this project and we were celebrating our hard work with a piece of French Silk pie on the roof of the double-decker porch in the cool evening's breeze. From that porch we could see three different firework's displays scheduled to dazzle us in celebration of the fourth of July. It was also the summer we all went on a special diet, shunning processed foods, especially white sugar and flour. The French Silk pie was an extravagant gesture of reverie in the pride of our work, the beauty of the evening and the love of our family.
When my wife (then my fiancé) brought up the pie for all to enjoy, she made a special bowl of brown rice for my father, the chief cheerleader for our summer diet. Food is always sacramental to my father. He eats with reverence, focused on every morsel, not leaving a drop of sauce or a grain of rice for the dishwater. When the rice came to him he exclaimed "Brown rice! The perfect food! Did you know that brown rice tastes as sweet as candy when you have been off white sugar for a while?" Yes, in fact, we did know that. It was the words of institution at every meal that included brown rice. Dad proceeded to exercise his usual devotion to the culinary task at hand. After a few minutes of blissful concentration, he looked up to see how others were enjoying their delicious treat. Peals of laughter followed the dawning look of realization on his face that he had been punked. He set aside his bowl of brown rice as his piece of French Silk pie was duly handed to him. He was once again lost in his delight.
Downstairs at the kitchen sink, were basking in the afterglow of the night, hands soapy with warm water and busy with drying towels. My mother said, "This will be a memory." I was her usual benediction to whatever moment we shared as a family that was meaningful and memorable. Her comment led us all to assent to the beauty and fullness of the moment, and to put the memory in that special place where it could be found and taken out, examined and cherished, again and again for retelling and reliving. Of the many times I heard that comment, I thought my mother was giving a description of the special nature of what we had just experienced. I have come to realize she was up to something quite different, even more profound. She was giving a proscription - saying "This will be a memory." She was ceding to us the crucial task of carrying this memory forward. For she knew that someday, she would not be there to conjure up the memory. That it would be up to us to keep this memory alive.
My mother is still with us, but she has no memory of this sultry summer evening when we watched the fireworks and ate French Silk pie. It is particularly cruel that a woman for whom memories were so important is now bereft of them due to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease, hardly a single one in place. Those that do come are random and often prompted by the memory of others. I think it must be a sharp pain for her when, in rare moments of lucidity, she remembers how much she has forgotten. It would be more humane if she had no memory at all. That day will soon enough be upon us. Then follows the merciful and sad day when she, herself, is but a memory.
Memory is what makes us who we are. Descartes had it nearly right. It is not "I think, therefore I am, but "I remember, therefore I am." Memory carries into the future that which has come into being in the past - fleeting things like, love and beauty and truth - even our very selves. Without memory these moments of love and beauty and truth will die forgotten. They take on immortality in our memories. Then they have a place where they can be found and taken out, examined and cherished, again and again for retelling and reliving.
It was out of the my mother's memory that I came to know the love of God in Christ Jesus, because she remembered what she had heard from her mother, who remembered what she had heard from her father what had been remembered by the saints throughout the generations. On that night in which he was betrayed, the night before his death, at the end of a very special meal, Jesus took a piece of bread and said - "this is me - this bread is all I am and have done for you." Then he took a cup of wine and said "this is my life - it has been poured out for you." He gave his very self for them to take, he poured out his very life for them to drink and then he said "This will be a memory." Paul, a generation removed from the event will state the purpose of remembering. "For whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." We remember and relive the love of Christ on the cross and in so doing Christ is alive.
We are still making memories with my mother. There are still moments of beauty and joy, and we cherish every one. She cannot herself remember but she has not lost her memory. She stored her memories in us, like treasures in heaven. I have told my children about the memories she gave us and I hope they tell their children, so that her love can reach them through remembrance, just as the love of Jesus has reached us through the memory of those saints that have gone before us who obeyed Jesus command to share memories of his love and make them live.