This Monday is Memorial Day where I'm from in the States - sort of like Canada's Remembrance Day. It reminds me I've been remembering a lot lately. Not, as the day intends, remembering the many fallen soldiers - I don't really know any - but remembering my lost self. Before you assume I'm battling senility, hear me out.
First, I got thinking about the word itself: remember. "Re-" referring to "dong something again, and "member" referring to members of a group or, as we usually think of it, pieces of data. At one level, remembering is about reassembling in our minds the various parts of a moment in time. But beyond this and maybe more importantly, by re-membering, when it's done well, we are putting together the pieces of who we are.
Anyone who's looked closely through photographs of his or her early years knows that a series of photos is much more than a ticker tape of factual data. The photos are entries into a life, and by putting the pieces of our lives together, we are re-membering our selves, creating our stories. And, as we view those photos, if we are sitting next to a family member who has shared those same moments, we know that their stories of us get added to ours, or perhaps we discount them entirely, as we shape our deeply textured narratives.
If you haven't re-collected your old photos recently and slowly re-collected the parts of yourself you've lost, putting them together into a bigger picture may bring more benefits than you would have thought possible. If you haven't kept your old photos, some solitude and reflection can initiate the same process.
To my pleasant surprise, my kids have served as a trigger for a lot of re-membering of my self lately. By attending to their world and their concerns, my two girls (5 & 3) have helped me relive my own childhood, bringing to mind many occasions, along with a flood of attendant feelings and impressions:
the smell of a kindergarten classroom,
the elation of riding solo on my bicycle for the first time,
the cold in my hands after building a snowman,
and the stains they left on my hands,
the death of my first goldfish
and the questions: Why isn't she swimming, Dad?
Such re-membering has made me deeply grateful, grounded, and whole.
If re-membering really is a meaningful process for individuals, why not also for community gatherings, such as Memorial Day gatherings or church gatherings? These are occasions for re-membering the community, bringing the members together again, retelling our common story, filling in the holes, and mending the broken places. The church communion service, sometimes called a remembrance feast, is the ultimate occasion through the bread and the wine for re-membering ourselves one to another and to God. The bread, Christ's body, broken and divided among us for the purpose of putting us back together - an amazing mystery!
The benefits of re-membering being obvious, the process can nevertheless be a scary undertaking. (In fact, you might feel like an undertaker exhuming a past you thought you'd put to rest.) We open ourselves to a gamut of emotions when we relive our past, sometimes nostalgic, happy ones, but sometimes broken ones with lots of scattered pieces we'd rather leave in the bottom of the closet. Re-membering may prompt us to look for someone to go through the process with us, and I think this is a good impulse. I've been a happy recipient of such re-membering, attended by an insightful and caring friend.
For me, re-membering would not be complete if God were not there as the ultimate attendant, mender, and story creator. Welcoming him into the process as I would a trusted friend is the ultimate re-membering. I have started with a simple prayer, "God, you're welcome here. Please help me put the pieces back together."
And when we discover ourselves mending and becoming whole, I believe, we have the beginnings of making healthy relationships. Knowing our own stories puts us in a confident place to look at the pictures from other people's lives, hear their stories, and help them re-member as well.