Every so often I stumble over an item in my reading that catches my attention and gives me pause. The following item seemed initially lost amid a series of quotes gathered by a popular news magazine writer from scientists of all different fields. I read it several times before deciding to copy the quote for my own further reflection: “Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City) says that as adults, especially after the age of 65, we can maintain our creativity by learning something new every day.”
The quote caught my attention because at the ripe age of 87, I find my own memory slipping (and in need of renewal, even on occasion needing a few seconds to recall the first name of someone I have known as a colleague and good friend for years). I easily fall into patterns of thought or action so worn and instinctive that I may even hesitate to venture into anything new. It can take significant effort to remember addresses and phone numbers. Years ago, I smiled at an aunt who quickly ran through the English alphabet in such situations before a given letter triggered the urgently desired name or recollection. Now I smile because I find myself in that very situation, and use the very same method.
On the other hand, I do have much more to remember and savor after all these years.
Memory itself is a wonderful gift from our creator. Although it can on occasion dredge up a bitter and painful experience, the same ability can bless us at times with echoes from the fondest of experiences from the past. Those memories continue to be blessings for us as we move through the years, Christmas by Christmas, year by year. Even our Scriptures are the Church’s most cherished memories.
As human beings, we take so much for granted — like the simple ability to remember things.
I began writing this column a few weeks ago, and have revisited the paragraphs every few days, touching up its expressions, changing a word or two, then sometimes changing the text back again to its original. In the meantime, I realize that these years have taught me to treasure the friendships which flourished over the years and decades. Once many years ago I read a paragraph in “Seasons of a Man’s Life” that suggested that sometime between the age of 37 and 42, a man always takes a second look at life and makes some changes or spends the rest of his life regretting it. I remember deciding that friendships were more important than a sterile career of biblical scholarship. I’ve kept a passion for the Scriptures over the years, but I also know that friendships have become much higher on my list of priorities.
I offer all these random reflections as a prelude for my suggestion in this column, namely that wonderful gifts under this year’s Christmas tree may be ones we already take for granted, namely the God-given gifts of memory and friendship.