When I wrote the first in this series of forty photos from my files, I mentioned that I’d been taking pictures for almost 60 years. Today’s photo, a scan of the original print, may be the oldest one I’ll be posting. Kodak did me the favor of date-stamping the print on the back: “Week of May 24, 1958.” The camera was the Brownie Holiday Flash; the film 127 Kodacolor.IMG

So I took this when I was thirteen. The scene doesn’t look much like this today. You can see that there is that cream-colored wall running the length of the photo, a temporary structure shielding construction work taking place at what was called at the time “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

If memory serves, this is the first picture that I had enlarged into an 8 X 10 print. I was very proud of it, though I regretted that someone’s hat intruded on the lower corner. Still, it was a perfect blue sky day, I got the soldier right there in the middle, and the two trees provided some symmetry. Since we are looking at a scene from 58 years ago, I don’t remember why I was in Arlington National Cemetery in springtime. My family didn’t travel very often, so here’s my best guess: this was a church youth group trip to Washington, D.C.

What memory hasn’t faithfully recorded and played back, the mind sometimes makes up. For example, I’ve always thought that my earliest memory was that of a younger brother being brought home from the hospital after his birth. I can picture the scene: the room, the blue blanket he was wrapped in — or was it green? — and I am on the floor as my parents come in the door. I’ve been playing, my grandmother (which one?) keeping me company. If this were my first brother, I would have been two and a half years old. If this had been the grand entrance of my second brother, I would have been three and a half.

Sadly, no one can confirm if this memory is true, fairly factual, or if I have, as they say, “manufactured” the scene based on a) things I was told decades ago, or b) what I imagined the scene must have been like. No matter. It is now my memory.

At the Tomb of the Unknowns (as it is called today), we keep alive the memory of those lost in war, those whose remains were never identified. They have no other marker. No names, dates, details. But they are remembered solemnly, and as the crowds view the changing of the guard, there is silence. And should the silence and reverence be broken by some thoughtless nonsense, the reprimand is quick and stern. Nothing must intrude on the gravity of that memorial.

Admittedly, some memories are frivolous and not worth spending much time with. Some are troubling and we wish they could be forgotten. Some are holy. Some are lessons. Some are the stuff of nightmares. Some pop into mind after years have gone by, prompted by an aroma, a glimpse, a name. Some are the only way we can hold on to someone beloved.

When I worked with teenagers on what we referred to as their “confirmation journeys,” one early activity we enjoyed together was sharing the “stepping stones” of our lives. We’d trace the outline of one shoe, cut some paper into the shape of soles, and label those with what we decided were the most significant events (or steps) we had encountered along the way so far. The teens recalled and noted the birth of a younger sibling, moving to a new school, the death of someone close, perhaps an especially significant spiritual encounter or new understanding (that with some prompting). Those were the memories that helped shape who they had become. And we adult leaders would always say, “Remember your baptism!”

Maybe one of those confirmands would remind us, “But I haven’t been baptized yet!”

“Then you, among all your baptized-as-infants friends, will surely remember yours!” The day, the water, the blessing. Good for a lifetime!

The other sacrament among us Reformed Christians has some memory attached to it too. There, carved into the Communion table, are the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The bread, the cup, the memory…the keeping alive of Jesus in our midst.

Lent is as good a time as any to remember who we are, and whose we are. Lest we forget. Lest the un-knowing become our undoing. Or, to put the more attractive and positive spin on it: let us nurture the best memories of our best selves!

 

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