“To a world we’ll not remember
When we’re old and tired…” –Better Oblivion Community Center, “Chesapeake”
These days, we make most of our bigger decisions based on memory—actually that of our son.
Last year, my wife and I took a four-year-old to Switzerland for two weeks. Two of our closest friends went with us which helped with handling all manner of toddlerisms, and Elliot handled the entire half-month away from home like a champ. We were proud of him and thoroughly enjoyed a long cross-country immersion into a country I’d wanted to see for quite some time. Yet even after returning from what was termed successful, we’re reticent to do so again—at least for a couple more years.
The primary question behind it all is simple: will he even remember going? If the answer is yes, then we should vacation together. Until then, we should avoid the additional cost and inconvenience. Besides, he loves staying with either set of grandparents.
* * *
I recently celebrated another birthday, a day that inched me a bit further into my forties. These are uncomfortable times, and if you’re in them (or past them) then you likely know the feeling. Turning forty opened my eyes to my own mortality in an interesting way. The thoughts aren’t morbid; rather, it’s clarifying to realize there’s a limited set of days to live. I have lived a certain amount of time and, if I am lucky, I will be given a bit more. Facing that, I find myself asking key questions about what is realistic to pursue.
What dreams are worth chasing?
What relationships are worth tending?
What voices should I allow in?
This time around the sun, the same questions are present. They’re also pressing. The goal with any limited resource is to use it wisely. How, then, do I invest my life in ways that are most meaningful? Whose perspective defines that meaning?
However, this morning it occurred to me that one day soon, the world will present itself and I will not remember my place within it. Memories of trips to Switzerland and Ireland, Israel and Alaska will fade and eventually vanish. Cherished moments that meant so much—first date to first steps—will flow together and become diluted as they’re washed downriver. It happens to all of us.
At that moment, whoever is in close orbit might begin to make similar decisions for my supposed benefit. If I can’t remember it, will I have access to it? If I can’t hold onto something for the long term, will it be given to me in the moment?
* * *
The reality for all of us is that nothing is carried from beginning to end, including our memories. The past will eventually fade. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. All we have is the moment we’re in.
Such phrases for me have always sounded so cliched, a saying sold on some wooden sign in a Cracker Barrel gift shop (next to “God Bless This Mess”). But I’m also getting older, which means I’m learning more and more about the importance of being present (and likely means I start to purchase items at restaurants with rocking chairs).
What is the purpose of life if the sum of our experiences vanishes with us?
Why labor toward so many things that will end up fallen or forgotten?
Why am I so preoccupied with a past that will fade? A future not promised?
We went ahead and booked our tickets for Iceland this fall—three of them. At the age of five, it’s uncertain exactly what he will remember, and my own recollections will fade. But here’s hoping that we can in those moments together enjoy the company of one another in the fullest way possible and toast the world together—even if it’s one we’ll not remember when we’re old and tired.