When memories fail, God’s love remains
When I was little, I had a fat, hollow, red plastic baseball bat made by Playskool. The bat’s bloated size made me think I was a good hitter, especially when I heard the thunk of another ball being sent to the far reaches of our backyard.
In one of our home movies from that time, I’m standing with my bat in front of the garage, and I’m growing impatient. “Put the camcohdah down, Dad!” I keep saying, unable to pronounce my “r”s, and of course he complies. I don’t want to be filmed. I want him to throw me the ball.
Fast forward 17-ish years, and I’m in Paris for a two-week study abroad trip, one of the most fun experiences of my life. Thank you, Mom and Dad! I’m in the Musée d’Orsay, and I have a Nikon D80 camera (thank you again, Mom and Dad!) that weighs at least five pounds hanging around my neck. That is, it hangs there in the brief moments when I’m not using it.
I probably shoot a few hundred photos in a few hours. I capture everything that moves me, amuses me, or even interests me. By the time we leave, I’ve caught something else, too: A sick headache.
Later in the trip, our class visits the Musée Rodin. Rodin is the creator of the famous “Thinker” sculpture, and the man was talented. There’s John the Baptist, pointing the way to the Messiah. There’s a couple embracing — they should get a room. There’s a pair of hands entwined. All chipped and chiseled out of some form of rock.
And this time, I allow myself to be amazed. I breathe a little more between shutter clicks. I let it all permeate my memory.
Good thing, too, because not all my digital memories from Paris have survived. At some point, the Nikon’s memory card got corrupted, and my photojournalism instructor salvaged what he could on a couple of discs. (Thank you, Robert Jordan!) It’s still hundreds of photos, but not the three thousand I shot. So for some places in Paris, my mind is the only form of memory I have.
I also got to know one of my best friends, Michelle, on that trip. She and I were constantly lagging behind the group to take pictures of, say, a building, or a flower poking through the January snow. We also wandered around a shopping mall, found a jazz club within walking distance of our hotel, and giggled as we trotted down a tight circular staircase to the underground catacombs.
I learned that Michelle has asthma — bad asthma. Despite sub-freezing temperatures, she had to open the windows in our hotel room one day because the cleaning products that housekeeping used were making her choke. (I’ve known her for nearly 13 years now, and I can tell you, if you’re skeptical when people say they can’t breathe, please believe them.) I learned about her son, her friends, and the type of writing she liked to do.
So many of my Paris experiences will stick with me only through photographic evidence. Others will stick only because I took time to soak in the moment. Both digital and human memories are valuable, and both can be lost.
But God uses our relationships in ways that reach far beyond memory. As the ultimate sculptor, He has used my parents, Michelle, and other believing friends and loved ones to mold me more and more into the image of Christ (He’s got His work cut out for Him) — even if I forget them all one day.
So yes, I hope each of you will take the family photos this Christmas. Yes, film your kids opening their “big” presents! But then I hope you’ll take a breath, “put the camcohdah down,” and let yourself love and be loved. When memory fails, love will remain (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Merry Christmas, y’all!
‘Must-reads’ this month:
● Our cover story on our 2021 Christian Leaders of the Year, including one posthumous honoree
● Libbo Crosswhite’s final(?!) Modern Motherhood column
● Dan Hall’s tribute to Joseph and other stepfathers