OPINION: Remembering to Remember

Jason O’neal
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Remembering to Remember

Jason O’Neal

I am generally one who embraces a day-by-day approach to life. For me, each sunrise generally brings with it new opportunities; each dawn makes way for fresh perspective. Seldom do I get bogged down by memories or regrets, though there are occasions where thoughts of those who have gone before me clamor for my attention. That happened to me recently as memories of my mother flooded my mind, no doubt prompted by the reality of my father’s currently failing health. In such moments, personal recollections of special moments find me, and images of those I once loved so dearly appear afresh. Remembering is good for the soul, and loss is one of the key sources of remembrance.

As a pastor, one of my duties is to help people come to terms with mortality - either those who are dying or those who are losing someone to death. I have sat by many bedsides, holding the hands of people as they slipped away. I’ve stood with families as they have made the painful decision to disconnect life support, praying for them and supporting them as they watch their loved ones take that final breath. It is one of the more difficult parts of my job, but also one of the most sacred, because it is there when the most important things in life become crystal clear: relationships.

In such moments, I have never had anyone reflect on their lives by focusing on money, fame, or power. I’ve never had anybody reminisce about the jobs they held, the hobbies they enjoyed, or the vacations they took. Without exception, the conversations revolve around loved ones, and any spoken regrets are about lost opportunities to both love and be loved. And, for those who remain, the memories of those who have passed away trigger in us a desire to go back in time, if but for a fleeting moment, and see that person again.

Elizabeth Akers Allen captures this truth well in her poem, “Rock Me to Sleep,” wherein she writes of the pain of losing her mother when she was still young. Plagued by memories of her childhood and longing to see her mother again, she writes:

Backward, turn backward, O time in your flight,

Make me a child again just for tonight.

Mother, come back from the echoless shore,

Take me again to your heart as of yore;

Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,

Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;

Over my slumbers your loving watch keep; –

Rock me to sleep, mother – Rock me to sleep!

In the game of life, time can become an enemy and memories can fade away. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. Memories are God’s special gift to us, bringing comfort in times of grief and offering peace in times of loneliness. Remembering is good for the soul, and it is helpful for us to engage in times of intentional reflection. When Jesus was dining with his apostles in the upper room shortly before his crucifixion, he presented them with the bread and wine that has become for us the symbols of Holy Communion. His instruction was simple: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). At stake, of course, is not merely an act of looking back, but one of looking forward as well. Memories serve as catalysts for personal growth. Theologian Frederick

Theologian Frederick Buechner notes that nothing is lost until it is no longer remembered. And so, in the midst of our frantic lives and frenzied schedules, it is my hope that each of us will take the time to pause and remember - remember those who have gone before us, but also God who is with us now. Everybody wants to be remembered, God included. And, if we take time to listen, we will hear him calling out, “Remember me.” I hope you do.

Jason O’Neal pastors Harvest Fellowship Church in Lewistown.