For the first time since I was involved in the memorial service for our friend Roger Johnson last week-end, I called Arlene today. It was good to hear her voice, and now the process of grieving, and healing, will start for her and the rest of the Johnson family. I was thinking about all the changes that will be occurring in their lives over the coming weeks, and months. But one of the things that struck me was something that I changed today. And I am sure that it seems like such a little thing, but it bothered me; more than you might think.
You see, I have used a cell phone since 1983 and as soon as we could record speed dial numbers, I entered “Roger and Arlene Johnson” along with their phone number. So, for almost twenty nine years, every time I made or received a call to the Johnson home, the caller id showed “Roger and Arlene Johnson.” Not any more…. today I removed Roger’s name from the directory, and so, when I called Arlene this afternoon, it merely said, “Arlene Johnson.” And, as I said already, it really bothered me. We love Arlene, but I felt empty without the “Roger.” And I wondered if this is the first step toward forgetting him. I certainly hope not. But there is no denying that time tends to blur our vision about departed loved ones.
I don’t mean that we forget about them, but the details tend to fade a bit. For example, I was thinking about my Dad, who died 33 years ago, during the last several weeks of Roger’s fight with cancer. And I remember that Dad had a huge scar under his jaw, near his chin, from where he had his salivary glands removed during an emergency surgery in a field hospital in Italy during WWII. And as a child I was fascinated by this scar, and always wondered if it hurt him. And now, for the first time, I can’t remember which side of his face it was on. I have even tried to look at pictures of him, but I can’t find one where his chin is lifted high enough that I can locate this long, disfiguring scar.
Or, Mom, when she was about four years old, pulled a pan of boiling water off the stove in her parent’s home, and it poured all over her shoulder. She never lost muscle function, or suffered any immobility, but it left a very large, nasty scar. You know what? I have seen that burn mark hundreds of times, and I can’t remember which shoulder was so damaged. And as strange as it sounds, it really bothers me that things that were so much a part of my folks elude my memory. I know these things sound petty, and these illustrations happen to be physical things I knew about my parents, but there are other remembrances as well.
During the last years of her life, Mom would always call me on Sunday nights – at 9:42 pm. Don’t ask me why, but it never varied – not even by a minute. And I used to get annoyed, because usually Janet and I were watching TV and by 42 minutes into the program, you didn’t want to be interrupted and miss the end of the story. So, many times I know that I was less than an attentive son. And for years after her death, I would subconsciously glance at the clock at 9:42 every Sunday evening and wonder, for a moment, where Mom’s call was. Now, more than a decade later, I don’t think about 9:42 pm Sunday nights nearly as much. And you know what? I am really embarrassed to tell you that I can’t remember if she died in 1997 or 1998 – and so I can’t tell you if it is 13 or 14 years ago that those calls stopped.
So what can we do to remember our loved ones? Well, Moses had a good thought for us. Because he wrote a whole book of the Bible – Deuteronomy – that was one continuous sermon on the history of the Jewish people and their relationship with God. And you know the word that comes up more than anything else? REMEMBER….. That’s right, Moses tells us to remember the past; our routines, our families, our relationship with God, and our history. In Deuteronomy 32:7, Moses said, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
So what can we learn from this? My encouragement tonight is to make a concerted effort to remember the past, and take what was good and extend it to the future; keeping those traditions alive. And my prayer is that you will take pictures, tell stories and even perhaps write a book, or a blog, about your past. As I write this tonight, I wonder if my children will use this blog as a way to remember our family’s past. I know that I have found this effort very rewarding; a blessing. And I hope that it has been for you you as well.
By the way, tonight’s post jogged my memory about an old picture of my Dad I REMEMBERED I have. Guess what – scar’s on the left side 🙂