When I look through the pictures I’ve taken since childhood, I do tend to look first at the digital files on my computer. There are hundreds of transparencies in trays I am ignoring, and lots of unsorted prints in shoeboxes in a closet down the hall. This Lenten practice I’ve chosen takes plenty of time already, so I’ve opted to limit my choices to images more readily available.

Oh, and I’ve tried to show the best side of my amateur photographic skills. You know, the “artistic” pics. But today I’ve gone a different route as you can plainly see.

Among my photos are the ones published during my college years. With negatives long lost in the Union Building darkroom five decades ago,  I have only a handful of good prints that have survived (including the Amish sled and George Shearing photos previously seen here). But this photo existed only in the pages of the school’s yearbook. kennedy assassination day.jpg

For some reason I remembered this picture, and to share it here, I had to take a ‘point and shoot’ camera to the attic, look through the book, and take a picture of the picture. (I know how primitive that sounds.)  To my dismay I discovered the photo was spread across two pages, with a seam down the middle. Thus, this ragged, blurry, distorted photo I had taken from the second story yearbook office looking down on classmates as they listened to the radio coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Someone had interrupted Dr. Bleasby’s Freshman Composition class to tell us that the President was dead. Classes were dismissed, and students gathered in hallways, others in the college chapel, and some outside, near cars with radios broadcasting the news through open doors and windows. There were few TVs around our campus back then, so radio was the go-to device for breaking news.

The photo is no work of art. Except that it turns out to be a graphic illustration of the aimlessness and confusion that gripped us all that day. JFK may not have been everyone’s political choice, but he was so young and handsome, laughing father of two small children, that there seemed good reason to tie him to Camelot. There in that image stand students in shock. Hardly two hours had passed since the motorcade had raced from a welcoming parade in Dallas to the hospital where Kennedy would be declared dead.

One way we measure the most profound events of our lives is to remember where we were when we heard the news. For my parents, it would have been the attack on Pearl Harbor. For me, the Kennedy assassination. And, for all of us now, the awful events of September 11, 2001. We remember. And if prompted, we tell again the stories, recalling the smallest of details, things we didn’t even know we remembered, until then.

Memory is a tricky thing otherwise. I’ve already written of a “false memory” I long ago constructed about my brother coming home from the hospital as a newborn. For many years I thought that what I recalled was factual, when in fact the memory was probably fabricated from things I had merely been told and then imagined so often that I convinced myself that story was memory.

But real memories can stick, can take hold, and never fade. I have a very real memory of my last visit with my grandmother in a nursing home. Her own memory loss was profound when it came to relatively recent events, but I was so very happy that she recognized me as my grandfather led me into her room. And I was quite amazed that her memories of being an elementary school teacher many decades back were clear and precise. Like my elderly friend Mabel, whose alzheimer’s  disease could not block her from playing favorite old hymns, both correctly and faithfully, at her guarded residence. Smiling.

Going back to those days when the nation mourned the tragedy of JFK’s murder, I have another memory, not of events or facts, but of feelings. The weekend following the assassination, the campus was almost deserted. Most students lived within driving distance or a bus ride home. A handful of us weren’t able to leave, and I spent that weekend alone in the one TV lounge in our dorm, watching coverage of the funeral. All these years later, I remember the loneliness.

Of course, there is that other side of memories: they remind us of times of great happiness and events that continue to make us smile, leading to tears of joy. My wedding day. The births of our children, and grandchildren! Ordination day for us clergy-types. And new calls to new places. Good times with best friends. I could go on, but you should make your own list.

Here we are in Lent. And yes, it is fed by memories preserved in gospel stories, Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Toward Lent’s end, there is that Last Supper, when Jesus breaks bread and shares wine and says, “Remember me.” I think that that night everyone in that upper room knew the meal would not mean “good times with best friends.” So, as we today commemorate (that is, honor the memory of) that meal, we think of it as a somber recollection, with a dirge-like soundtrack.

But when Jesus asks us to remember him, I like to think he’d want us to recall the joy of the wedding feast in Cana; the laughter and song that must have accompanied the table gatherings that he presided over; the light in the eyes of the once-blind, then healed, and the dance in the footsteps of the lame now whole; the sense of humor that pushed camels through the eyes of needles; and pretty much the redemption of the whole creation.

He couldn’t very much say it that night as Judas prepared to leave, but Jesus could well have added, “Remember me…as Risen.”

And that would be for us all a deep, deep memory, smiling.

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