Christmas and Memory

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“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” ― Julian Barnes

As you decorate for the holidays each year are you putting up all your lights and garland just to have something festive hanging from your windows and branches? Is this annual activity only aimed at putting your home in the festive mood? Maybe this is a traditional chore that just needs to be done? You’ve purchased all that stuff over the years, it would be crime to not drag it out and nail it to the wall, right?

My wife was the decorating dynamo to my grinch every Christmas season. Ask anyone that knows us. She was definitely over the top. As the years passed, our house started to look like a nutcracker flea market. Things are much more low key these days. In fact, I couldn’t find any of our collection of wreaths. Please don’t tell. I must of lost my senses and pitched them all one hot July afternoon. Let’s hope Santa wasn’t watching.

The question I want to ask is, do you think this is really all about just decorating? I think. whether we realize it or not, what we are doing is awakening our memory each holiday season.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” ― Hamilton Wright Mabie

When we relive our memories that made us happy – it makes it more true.  The memory we have of being with our friends, loved ones, family becomes more firmly planted inside us as we remember, share it, and pass it on in the telling, retelling (and even elaborating). These memories become happiness for us years later, when at the time we never fully realized what they truly were. They were being planted inside us as we grew up and matured and then one day needed them so much.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” ― Virginia Woolf

What we do with our memories is so important. They aren’t really something to just save for a rainy day. They become richer and vibrant as we share them with others. They need to be passed on so that they can live and continue to enliven with meaning. When you talk about that ornament on the tree that your grandmother made, you are sharing part of yourself with your granddaughter. She will remember it one day as she hangs it on her tree and will have saved a part of you and a piece of what mattered to you.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” ― J.M. Barrie

Memory hold us all together. Those rich memories that are being created and shared during this time of year are like chains of gold that hold people together – especially when the going gets rough. Having common memories, even when we don’t all remember the details the same, is an essential form of social cohesion. It’s like super glue that keeps even the most independent free spirit connected to his home base. Somehow.

“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.” ― Charles Dickens

When Christmas arrives each year, what do you remember?

I’m unpacking boxes in the garage and finding memories stashed away, some very carefully, others crammed in with what looked like a mostly hurried life. I honestly thought that maybe last year I had packed away my artificial tree with all the decorations still on it. It is the season of hope, no? Well, I found the box and no such luck.

My childhood Christmas was in the 60’s and 70’s. Very unique decor. I remember two very different kinds of holiday. One at home with a silver and gold tree in the olive green, dark wood living room. The tree had it’s own rotating multicolored spotlight shining on it as it stood proudly in the front window. We thought it was cool, but because it was in the front living room, where no one ever went, except the little dogs to periodically take a dump, it was an experience we didn’t really fully embrace.

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We had another tree in the den, the regular tree. This is the one where we stashed presents, hung lights and our homemade ornaments. It was the children’s tree. We did grow up doing craft projects with the neighbors. I remember making ornaments for the tree and even presents for our family. I don’t remember all the gifts purchased at the store – I do remember those that we made ourselves. Not sure all the recipients did??

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” ― Richard Paul Evans

As I recall, my grandparents did hang up on the walls of their little house those homemade gifts. That was the other location for my childhood Christmas memories. There was a life-sized Santa and his sleigh with Rudolph, wooden cut-outs in the front yard. We knew Christmas was almost here when they went up each year. The tree was hung with all the familiar decorations, homemade, store bought, it was an archive of memories as we explored the branches every year to look for our favorites.

Those memories are recorded on polaroid photographs. Remember those? Your aunt with that funny hairdo. Those cousins who looked so innocent. Everyone was like a new jacket. Then you realize how many of those faces are gone now. I can’t really remember any of what was wrapped up in those packages, so colorful and carefully arranged. But I do remember those people that I didn’t pay enough attention to, taking it for granted as we all do. Now Christmas is just a few of us instead of a houseful. All that love is still bouncing off the walls but not as many to catch it.

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.” ― William Golding

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to grieve a little for people no longer here when you come across a memory. We had a beloved aunt who crafted homemade cards with photos, she wrote on the back of each one, I saved many and run across them now and again. That’s what bittersweet tastes like, I thought, as I put one of her handmade ornaments on my tree last night.

Make it a point this year to take a few moments and remember someone or sometime in your life. Think about what they/it mean to you. As you’re sitting around with others, find something to share – especially with someone of the next generation. Maybe a backstory, a quality, something important that ought to be known. It doesn’t need to be in chapters or make everyone cry. But it will tell a lot about you. If you can be intentional about sharing, you will have helped hold your group together with a few more strands of meaning. And that kind of buried treasure won’t ever run out of batteries.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” ― Amy Carmichael

 

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It’s All Routine

The Seed Sower – Jeremy Sams Art

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

― Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

Four days before the Spring semester was to start – the university announced, to be safe, that we would do classes completely remote for the first two weeks. Well, that sent me into a scramble, launching a new plan. What it also did was delay the normal routine of life that keeps me sane and safe, something I take for granted but that’s essential for living a life that’s moving in the right direction. That’s what I want to do, keep moving toward future chapters.

“It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.” ― John Guare

As I think about it, routines in my life do three things:

They keep me moving in the right direction. This past year has been a mess for me. A series of starts and stops. It’s not just the dramatic changes in my work and social routines – but my basic life rhythms are off balance as I adjust to living alone. They don’t give names to tidal waves do they?

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I need to be thinking about where I want to go and the steps necessary to get there and so order my days in that direction. I teach college students to think about their learning like a 9-5 job (that metaphor is quickly going out the door!). Work on class assignments, reading, projects, etc. each and every day. Take specific steps as you plan your day that are carrying you toward your goal. Let’s see if anyone is listening.

While I’m sitting at home, on the couch – not going to my office, interacting with students one-on-one via messages, I try to keep a daily routine running. I write a list of tasks that need to be accomplished each day/week. Big and little, each must be done. There are also routines related to larger ongoing projects that I nibble on most days, like building an online course, painting a picture or writing those books.

These routines hold my focus on what’s important. It’s been too easy to lose whole days (even a week here and there) during solitary confinement. I always thought getting old would take longer (I stole that line). Time really is moving faster. I don’t want to lose days that had something essential in them that needed to be done.

It’s easy to wander off the trail and get confused about what I’m supposed to be doing. This prolonged time of separation and isolation can make anyone wonder about larger purposes. It seems as if there’s so much more time to fill. When I’m asking myself big questions related to mission and purpose, keeping the daily routine helps me to trudge on. You wouldn’t believe how much out loud talking to myself I’m doing!

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” ― Paulo Coelho

Doing work, reaching out to students, devotional/reflection, contacting friends and family, putting ideas on paper – all of these practices have been important and are still. It doesn’t matter how I feel or what the plans are for next week. Shaping each day around these sign posts help to show me what’s important. One day after another.

Routines can replace inspiration. I’m too often looking for burning bushes. Most of life is buttering the toast and putting the washing into the dryer. God’s presence in my daily life is very evident, but that doesn’t mean I don’t often feel trapped in the backwaters of sitting here.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

Let’s be honest, these days motivation and encouragement can be hard to find. Isolation is one cause, fewer social interactions can be another. Inspiration is something that’s often taken for granted. When it’s run dry, we notice, usually too late. I don’t always feel like it, but getting up at the same time, working on my list, getting online and running all the errands – most of the time the inner drive is very half-hearted, but routines keep the ship (me) afloat for another day.

When you put into action each day what you believe and know to be true – it becomes a lived out kind of inspiration. Waiting to be inspired is a death sentence. The trick is to keep walking in the spirit of what’s buried deep within you.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” ― J.M. Barrie

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