Thursday, December 4, 2008

Selective Memory

This past week, we were at my parents’ house, sitting around digesting Thanksgiving dinner, when my mom pulled out a box of photos she found for me. In the box was an old report card of mine from sixth grade for the 1972-73 school year. I was excited to open it. What I remembered from sixth grade—what I’d always told my own kids from my elementary years, “Yes, I got good grades. What? Oh, A’s and B’s I guess.” And, while I remember myself as an animated, vivacious child, I don’t recall being a brat. Imagine my surprise when I opened up this yellowed bit of cardstock with my name written in neat cursive on the front to discover a single A and the rare B. Most predominant was the letter C and…what’s this? D’s in math…and reading comprehension…and music? Are you kidding me?!

Glancing over to the Social Development side of the report, things went from bad to worse. “S” stood for Satisfactory and “U” for Unsatisfactory. My card was peppered with U’s for Effort, Listening, Follows Directions, Conduct, Finishes Assignments, Works to Ability…all in one single report period! My eyes traveled to the bottom of the card where I saw my mother’s signature, “Mrs. Alden Thompson.” Apparently, she saw this harsh evaluation of her firstborn yet permitted me live to adulthood.

Seeing that report card brought back a flood of memories. I remembered liking a boy all year that completely ignored me. I was not friends with the popular girls. I was clumsy in a strange body, mortified about my sudden burst of height, desperate to disguise my beanpole figure with bulky shirts. My glasses were ugly, my teeth crooked, and my feet huge. I couldn’t walk without tripping. I slouched. I chewed my fingernails. I worried a lot. I worried about the Vietnam War, and contracting rabies. I worried something would happen to my parents, that I might faint (again) during the Christmas program, and that I might never stop growing. I was scared to death of my band teacher and was convinced Mrs. Wick had it in for me. (Who could blame her?)

History and The Present have a way of colliding when you have children. You unwittingly revise the past in order to set the bar high for your offspring. (Who would be inspired if they knew the truth about Mom and Dad?) I have given birth to five people who made it through grade school getting far better grades than I ever did. Yet if they dared come home with so much as a C or a check beside “Uses Time Wisely” I was all over it! Unfortunately, editing my own history made me less tolerant and compassionate than I should have been.

I find it interesting how vastly different two people’s memories can be of the same past event. The person with whom I share the most childhood memories is my younger sister, Renee, and even our stories of the same events don’t always match. We sometimes argue over really important stuff such as which of us the dog liked best or who threw the first rock that started a war with the boy next door. I have to admit that I remember so little of what really happened in the past and what I do remember is entirely one-dimensional. I can only see things from my very limited perspective, from my own vantage point, as if the entire world revolved around me. I realized recently, that I have constructed my own personal, skewed version of history. Like a mental scrapbook, I have chosen certain events that I have ceremoniously glued into my subconscious and adorned with stickers and fancy fonts so that they look far better in retrospect than the original. Yet, what I have left out? Did I save only the pleasant memories, like great report cards, and photographs full of smiling, carefree people—the things that make me look good and make my life seem perfect? What about the failures, the sad things, the disappointments? My memory scrapbook is incomplete and inaccurate because I don’t know what it is in my life that I should be saving and what should be thrown. Who can help me sort through this tangle of memories accurately?

People talk of going off to “find themselves” as though solitude and introspection will give them the answers they need. We can truly only know ourselves in context of our relationships with others. It takes humility for me to be willing to see myself from the perspective of someone else. My view alone does not give me a complete picture. Ultimately, there is only One who has perfect recall of every moment of my life. He saw my body before it was fully formed in my mother’s womb. He saw my tiny heart begin to beat and noticed when I found my thumb. He was present at my birth, and later when I said my first word, alone in my crib, before even my parents heard and celebrated. He saw the joy on my face when I took my first steps and learned to ride a bike. He saw the bullies on the playground and in the classroom. He saw when I was the one doing the bullying. He saw how desperately lost and insecure and anxious I was. He knew what no one else did. He knew I needed Him. He alone is able to make sense of all my life’s experiences; past, present and future. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says,

Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me.”

How can I ever understand myself apart from God? I can’t. Now my vision is blurry. There is much I don’t see, and what I do see often doesn’t make sense. But I know that God will take it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and one day show me how it all works together for His good purpose; without editing, without dishonesty, without hypocrisy. In the meanwhile, I approach His throne with confidence. He knows it all, what do I have to hide? Why should I be ashamed? The one past event that matters most is that God loved me so, He gave His only Son—not to condemn me, but to give me life. And one day, I will know as surely as I am known. That’s something worth remembering

1 comment:

  1. Poignant, potent, and ponderable!
    Great post, really well written; I enjoyed it immensely.