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The Remembering

The Remembering

I don’t remember when it was that I began to spend so much time remembering.

This is in part because memory is cumulative and I’ve somehow managed to accumulate—no, that can’t possibly be right—58 years’ worth of experiences, moments and sensory impressions, all neatly logged and stored away in the old hippocampus*. That’s a lot of memories, with more joining them every day.

What struck me recently is just how present and powerful the act of remembering has become in my daily life these past few years.

Every morning I do a set of stretching exercises that a physical therapist taught me years ago to keep my back from locking up. For the last decade my dearly departed feline companion Lucca played a major role in that daily routine, circling and head-butting every part of me he could reach while purring furiously in anticipation of the breakfast that always followed. When stretching these days I always take a moment to feel his insistent nudges, hear his urgent purr-chirps, smell his morning kitty breath. This was our daily communion, and he continues to be present for it, if only in memory.

Glancing around my workspace only accelerates the remembering. In the wake of my mother’s and father’s passings, I inherited several items that memory has bestowed with almost talismanic power, in particular a pendant my mother wore every day when I was a teenager (the inspiration for a certain object at the center of Never Break the Chain), and the “World War II Veteran” hat my father would wear to events for servicemembers. In the early months when the wound of each loss was fresh, looking at these objects could be painful. With the benefit of time and distance, though, the connections they symbolize and memories they spark are more likely to inspire smiles.

Our family faced another monumental loss just days ago, saying goodbye to my father-in-law Larry. Our graveside convocation was small, out of both necessity in the era of COVID and the guest of honor’s own preference, expressed many times, for us to make as little fuss as possible over his departure. As I’ve been reminded over and over, though, funerals are for the living, and our modest gathering was a healing moment for all, a chance to remember Larry and pay tribute to all that he meant to us and did for us in his 84 years of life. Afterwards we gathered around his table for lunch and yet more stories.

These rituals—the goodbyes and memorials and the remembering that follows them—are about cementing these memories, fixing them in place as a part of us forever, while also honoring what should be honored—commitment, kindness, laughter and sorrow. The elemental experiences that shaped and produced the people we are today.

The act of remembering grounds us in these experiences, and reminds us that we’re part of something greater than ourselves, an interconnected web of humanity, a story being told every day, moment by moment, through every millisecond of our lives, and onward into eternity. It’s a reminder that alone, we are still ourselves, but connection challenges and empowers us to try to be the best version of ourselves that we can, to fulfill the promise made the moment we came into this world. With effort and no little grace, we may then have the opportunity to leave behind a legacy—not buildings or empires, but moments of transcendence where we connect with and live out the larger purpose of our lives: to give and receive love, and to help others to do the same. 

It may seem like we’re just remembering a moment, a conversation, a look, a smell, a feeling. But what we’re really remembering is who we are, and why we’re here at all.


* Whenever I see the word “hippocampus,” I visualize a herd of muddy, grunting hippopotami lumbering across the lush green lawn of an Ivy League college. Or is that just me?

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