The Gift of Remembering the Things that Matter

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

The Beatles, In My Life

This Week a Year Ago

On January 25, 2023, my friend Nathan died. This morning, I find myself lost in a bit of remembering. It’s not a bad place to get lost. I remember the call and the shock of the news. I remember the funeral, the beautiful eulogies, and the somber respectfulness of those gathered in the church. I remember the burial, the final words, and the strange finality that accompanies a casket over an open grave. I remember the surreal feeling of realizing that someone I knew was no longer present in the world. I remember the years I knew him and the moments we shared. And, I remember my last conversation with him.

The word “remember” has been floating around my head over the last few weeks. This morning, I remembered that I had written a post two months before Nathan’s death entitled: Hold on to People, They’re Slipping Away. I’ve reposted it below. In hindsight, the timing of that post and Nathan’s death seems strange but, of course, it’s really not. Such is the way of loss and of remembering – strange and mysterious. Looking a bit more closely, we find gossamer threads connecting our lives, and the moments within, to those of others. Sometimes clearly and sometimes less obviously.

Watching my grandchildren and his great-grandchildren at a recent birthday party, my dad asked me if the moment reminded me of similar days with my own children. Pausing to consider, I realized that it had not occurred to me. At least not until he prompted me. From there, I saw layers and layers and layers of memories, swirling, landing, and laying right where I left them: hidden behind new moments. Waiting to be picked up again. Strange and mysterious.

Sitting next to my vibrant 88 year old friend, L.H., at dinner last week, I wondered about my own time in this world. Perhaps today is a good day to remember. The joys. The struggles. The victories. The defeats. The things we’ve lost and the things found along the way. The people we’ve helped and those who were there when we needed them. Those who are with us and those who’ve gone before us. Perhaps there’s no time like the present to remember the things that matter.

Hold on to People, They’re Slipping Away – November 20, 2022

Focus on everything better today
All that I needed I never could say
Hold on to people, they’re slipping away
Hold on to this while it’s slipping away

Moby, Slipping Away

The cold has arrived and, with it, that quiet introspection which always seems to accompany the gray moodiness of a blustery winter storm. For those who appreciate the crisp edge of the cold and the crunchy sound of snow, Traverse City is lovely right now.

On a recent trek to Michigan, we rolled through Fort Wayne, Indiana and took a little side trip. As we exited the interstate, we turned upon a road I had not traveled in years; more specifically, in nearly 25 years. My mind wandered to an early point in my career and a client with whom I worked. His name came back to me: Bernie. I had forgotten him until that moment. A project. A deliverable. A transaction. A moment in time.

Bernie was lost to me in the raging river of pursuit: deals, dollars, advancement. One of innumerable relationships centered on the product or service of the moment, lost in the torrent of life’s changing seasons. Progression or regression, it only moves in one direction: forward. From that moment in time, my mind wandered across a wide range of similar moments. Clients. Co-workers. Companies. Communities. People, places, and seasons. Most forgotten in the passing of moments, only to be recalled with a sign of that time taking me back.

There was nothing particularly profound about the memory, it was just one in a stream of forgotten moments that conspired to bring me to this one. One man, one period of time, and a whole bunch of lost details. It was here and then it was gone, like so many others. Suspended in that moment, I was left with a sense of the great expanse of life and time and people.

A few days before, I had listened as some friends described challenges with their aging parents. In many ways, the concerns reminded me of our role as parents of young children. How do we protect them? How do we keep them healthy? What care or help do they need? But they are not young children, and the conversation turned to that edge where the aging process impacts our daily lives. Somewhere along the way, the children become the parents, and it’s not easy, pleasant, or rewarding.

A number of years after Bernie, I found myself working with skilled nursing facilities housing elderly who needed extensive care and support. Another season, another collection of people and places. I remember the acute sadness, and repulsion, I felt whenever I was in one of these facilities. Many of the residents spent their days in beds, falling in and out of consciousness, existing in a state of limbo somewhere between life and death. I remember the sounds, the smells, and the discomfort. But mostly, I remember the chilling sense of loneliness.

I cannot speak to the care or compassion these residents received. I’m sure the care was fine and the compassion likely spanned the wide spectrum of our individual capacities for tolerating other human beings in their worst states. As I listened to my friends describe the situation with their aging parents, my heart felt heavy with the sadness of the circumstances and my own brushes with what appeared to be one of the most brutally lonely ends one could fathom for his or her own life.

I wondered: what are we called to when it comes to these relationships and the movement toward life’s end? What is enough?

We are not made to collect every relationship, retaining it in our possession like a painting or a baseball card. There are not enough shelves, bins, or storage units to hold these ties. We are not meant to own them like so many trinkets. Most are temporary, passing in the river of time to be held as a fond, foul, or fleeting memory. These are seasonal movements, fading like flowers as we meander through the times of our lives.

However, there are a few relationships that are precious. Ties with individuals we are called to honor, cherish, and protect – to the end. Bonds which must be prioritized and stewarded carefully. Perhaps even at great personal expense or inconvenience.

Where is the line of “enough” for such sacred connections? The place where we’ve spent enough time, enough money, or enough emotion? When have we fulfilled our sacred duty to honor, cherish, and protect?

I first heard Moby’s Slipping Away as I watched my grandfather, my Poppy, fade from big, bullish personality to the quiet, contracted end, of old age and poor health. The process seemed slow cast against the myriad priorities of my full, busy, life, but it was a snap of the fingers in that torrent of time that has us all racing to the same end.

Each of us lies on the other side of this same equation. We have passed in and out of the lives of others. Perhaps we are the fading memory, triggered with a random sign or walk down an old path. Maybe we are the long-forgotten joy, pain, or inspiration for the other, now racing along on their own river of progress. When our own time comes, and our step has slowed, our thoughts seem muddled, and we need help, I wonder what will be enough for those who consider us precious.

In the end, our great mistake is to think that our life is just about us. Our plans. Our desires. Our happiness. All slipping away. Just like everything precious to us today. Perhaps when it comes to enough, there is only one finish line. Hold on to people, they’re slipping away.

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