By Harold Fite
Someone has said, “If you have trouble remembering things and you fear you are losing your mind — don’t worry about it — just forget it.” While this contains humor, losing memory is a serious matter.
Memory is the “power of the mind that retains knowledge acquired by the perception and consciousness of the past.” Marjorie Holmes, in her book, You And I And Yesterday, said, “man is the only creature whose emotions are entangled with his memory.” Memory is the record of man’s experience. It is the ability to review the events of yesterday, and bring meaning and purpose to present experiences. Without memory we would be ignorant of the past and incapable of understanding the present. We would be void of lasting impressions; no process of reasoning; no conscience nor sense of responsibility.
On a bright February morning, Beverly Slater, then 48, stepped off the curb as the traffic light turned green in her direction. She was struck by a car, flung onto its hood, car- ried 50 feet, and dropped headlong onto the pavement. The impact of the collision was so great that her outstretched hand left a palm print pressed into the car hood. She remained in a coma for four days. When she opened her eyes she was surrounded by strangers. Who was this “Hal” asking her if she was “all right”? And what did he mean by “husband”? Forty-eight years of memory — her entire past — was erased instantly on the morning of February 13, 1980, in Philadelphia. Imagine, waking up some morning with no memory of the past!
Memory forms an individual’s identity. Much of our lives are shaped by what we have learned. We can relate to the past — good or bad. We can relate to getting married, having children, but when we lose memory we cannot relate to any of these things. Memory is essential to human individuality. Tying the past to the present creates a continuing sense of identity. Memory helps to identify who we are — our roots.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to go back to the community where I was born and where I spent the early years of my life. It was a delightful journey back in time. I could visualize the men, long since gone, gathered in the shade of the old tree, whittling and making conversation, waiting for someone to signal that it was time to begin the church services.
I remember the three-room schoolhouse, which once stood a short distance away, and the happy experiences enjoyed there. As I sat in the old meeting house, I sat approximately where I sat years ago as a cotton-headed, barefoot boy in overalls. I looked across the room to a most familiar spot and recalled the features of an old grayhaired gentleman who always sat there — one whom I loved very much, and followed many a mile — my granddaddy Fite. I looked where he always hung his hat and remembered vividly the way he prayed.
Memories of childhood flooded my mind as I traversed the grounds of the old home place. As I gazed toward a corner of the pasture I could envision the small house in which I was born. It was there my brother died, and where I became deathly ill as the result of slipping a plug of Brown Mule chewing tobacco out of my granddaddy’s pocket and partaking of it. But now on that spot the green grass grows and the cows graze.
I looked at the sycamore trees alongside the house remembering the hours I played in the shade they afforded. It was there I gained my first experience and appreciation of the power of a 12 gauge double-barrelled shotgun when both triggers are pulled simultaneously.
I remembered the location of the wash pot in which we boiled clothes and made lye soap, and of the time when trying to be of help to my mother — but incapable of reaching the wash pot, I dropped various articles of clothing into the fire, and burned that which we could ill afford to lose.
Although all trace of it has been removed, I could see through my mind’s eye the barn, in which I sat and ate raw peanuts by the hour, shelled corn, fed the stock, and upon which I sat and contentedly smoked corn silks.
The tank of water where I watered old Nig and Preacher (our mules) still looked the same. The pastureland, which once grew cotton, presented a picture to me of one sitting on a cotton sack on a cool, crisp fall morning, waiting for daylight, wondering why his daddy didn’t let him sleep a little longer.
I remembered the spot where my dad shot my hound dog because he was sucking eggs, and the area around the woodpile where I spent many an hour and rode a broom stick many a mile while visualizing myself as the hero who wore the white hat and rode the magnificent white stallion.
Precious father, loving mother,
Fly across the lonely years
And old home scenes of my childhood
In fond memory appear.
Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul In the stillness of the midnight Precious, sacred scenes unfold.
Now these things identify me. This is who I am — my roots. Without memory I am a nobody. Memories can help us live in the present and future. God called upon his people to remember the past to secure obedience to the future (Deut. 8:1, 2).
We must remember our spiritual roots. Look back to when you were “dead through trespasses and sins,” without God and no hope of heaven. How you were saved from past sins by the grace of God coupled with faith (Eph. 2:1-8). You became a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We must always remember our cleansing from old sins (2 Pet. 1:8). This reminds us who we are (our spiritual roots). We are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). We have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20); our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20ff).
Our memory will play a part in judgment as God calls upon us to “remember” (Luke 16:25).
How wonderful that memory lingers still.