Catching Memories Before They Slip Away

April 28th, 2017  |   

“She went on speaking about how this land had become cursed with a mist of forgetfulness.” The Buried Giant,  Kazuo Ishiguro


I like to sit at the bar. It’s where I go on Sunday mornings for my weekly indulgence—two blueberry pancakes, three pieces of bacon, and coffee, served up at a restaurant a few blocks from my home. Conversation often breaks out among folks at the bar. A few weeks ago, one of those conversations got around to the subject of Alzheimer’s.

The man seated next to me spoke of a friend who had lost her memory to this dreadful disease. It was as if pages out of the diary in her head had been blown away, page-by-page, day-by-day. The memories that defined who she was, the narrative out of which her life took shape, were gone. Afterwards, on the way home, I thought of my father.

Just prior to his death, the two of us went to the Toddle House, his favorite Baltimore breakfast place. The waitress knew exactly what he would order. Everyone there knew my father. A man sitting at the end of the bar held a conversation with him. After he paid his check and left, my father leaned over and asked me, “Who was that man?” It was reminiscent of the words from Paul Simon’s song: “You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away.” The fear that many us have, as we move closer to death, is that a synaptic upheaval will disconnect us from one another.

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “The Buried Giant,” an elderly couple, Beatrice and Axl, recognizes that their memories have washed away like sand on a beach. Their minds have been nibbled away. Memory is no longer reliable. Not only that, they discover that everyone in their community has the same difficulty. There is a mist that takes memories away from everyone, young and old alike. “With this mist upon us,” says Beatrice, “any memory’s a precious thing and we’d best hold tight to it.”

Since the election of Donald Trump, I feel like our nation has a mist upon it. Our memory is no longer reliable. Facts seem to be out of reach, and reason has become unreliable. As for myself, everything I have worked at over the course of my ordained years, all the social justice efforts, are under attack, and the hard won gains are in a state of distress, in a land where the cheerleader in the White House leads the cry to make America great again. It would be easy to forget the accomplishments.

In the midst of this mist, Beatrice reminds us to hold tight to any memory we are able to grasp. Here’s the simple truth I hold tight to: The very best organizing, creative planning and action take place when a crisis occurs. When a heavy mist challenges our vision, we become more alert, and move forward, out of the mist, with more intensity and focus.

It may sound bizarre but Donald Trump may be just what we need to energize a resistance that has been asleep. I see people, young and old, organizing and mobilizing in an active resistance to this con man who has fleeced his way into the White House.

Today I heard from an 89-year-old friend. He wrote: “I don’t keep track of Donald Trump’s daily absurdities. I’m not surprised by the goofiness coming out of Washington. I am focused on the realities of climate change, and that we are very possibly in a life-or-death struggle, unprecedented in the history of humanity. And I know what I have to do.” And what’s that? He is preparing, with others, to do civil disobedience, resisting the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Virginia.

Now that’s an encouraging word, along with an Appalachian musical reminder: “Don’t let the shadows turn into mountains. It’ll be all right when the mist clears away.”


Entry Filed under: Fig Tree Notes Archives

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4