The other day one of my dearest friends, John called to ask me a delicate question. He had the confidence in our relationship of nearly 50 years to ignore etiquette and ask what I might want as a gift for a significant event coming up in my life which he’ll be celebrating with me. I was grateful for the question because I was able to tell him I wanted nothing tangible from him and his lovely wife. I said, “I just want you to remember me and stay in touch after I move.”
We all love to give and receive gifts. But why? Apart from a tangible show of enthusiasm marking significant events in our lives, aren’t our gifts often a means to keeping memories alive? We’re hoping that when Aunt Mae looks upon the figurine of birds and flowers that she’ll recall our loving face and think positive thoughts about us.
This may have been going through my friend’s mind, wanting to mark my day in a significant way for both him and me. But we’re both getting long in the tooth and both have plenty of possessions, practical and sentimental. So I asked him and his wife simply to write a note in a card. And most of all to stay in touch with me, to keep alive the love and friendship we’ve had since grade 1. I wanted us to transcend the space that will prevent us from enjoying Sunday evening tea on his deck where we always picked up conversations where they’d left off. We would chat for hours about esthetics, theology, liturgy, history, art, architecture and family. We counseled each other in our darkest moments and solved the world’s and the church’s problems with brilliant (!) insight.
All of us now live in an age where it easy to transcend space. We use a frankly miraculous communication network: Skype, email, texting, and telephoning. We’re able to have a virtual presence in one another’s lives that adds to the quality of our existence. We no longer have to wait for days to receive replies to our letters, signs of our love and concern. It’s as if space now means nothing.
This transcending of space can be frustrating, however. It magnifies our inability to transcend time. We’re reminded that time plows ahead as an irritating enemy, never to be retrieved, once wasted or lost. Meditation on the present moment helps. I can drink in the immediate sensations and thoughts that flow through me. I can experience the peace of thinking time is standing still, as if it doesn’t really matter.
That’s what remembrance is all about. It is a means to transcend space and putting time in its place. We are able to conjure the feelings and emotions of a past event through the miracle of our memories, the positive intentions of friendship, and the moments of joy that are pure gift. I just want to be remembered, not with monuments or memorials, not with a fancy gravestone or an eloquent sermon, but in the minds and hearts of those I’ve touched or moved, those I’ve helped to heal or make whole, those who’ve responded to me-as-I-am and to my unique and sometimes crazy personality so that I might die believing that I’ve added to, and not subtracted from, the universe.