Do you remember the play The Fantasticks? I have seen it a few times and the song that begins “Try to remember” has always stayed with me. I seem to reflect on it several times a year when yahrtzeits of friends and parents come around. This week is the 6th anniversary (strange use of the word) of my mom’s death. My dad died many years ago, like 1990, way too soon. They have been joined by way too many close friends in the last few years. So this week, as I look at the calendar and the candle of memory, I could not help but try and remember some of their words. It kind of fits with the Torah portions that now begin the Book of Deuteronomy, which begins in Hebrew with ‘d’varim”, or words.
As time moves on (all too quickly now) do you ever stop and try to remember some of the words your parents and friends spoke; words that still stick in your mind? I remember the day of my ordination and my dad taking me into my study in my apartment in Cincinnati and just saying his advice that was “there is no substitute for hard work”. As time moves on, the images in our minds eye sometimes get a little cloudy. We still hear or see something that brings us up and reminds us of them, and we may utter a silent, wish that these people were around to share this moment. That is happening more and more with grandchildren. And politics! My parents and many of my friends who have died would be on the phone every night with me with what is going on now. My closest friend, Jake, and another close friend, Steve, would be all over the news.
What do we remember? As time moves on and we may recall less and less of what people looked like or said, one thing always remains, and, I think, get stronger in our collective memory. I think a lot more of these people’s spirits. Almost as if there soul, or part of it, comes to me in various times. Think of the people close to you who may have died. What is it that stays with you over the passage of time? Let me suggest that a significant part of their memory os their spirit, their sense of how they lived and related to the world. Joan Chittister, in her boom “The Gift of Years”, cites a quote from Plato which says that when physical eyesight fades “spiritual eyesight increases”. Maybe this is what memory is really about, this sense of “spiritual eyesight”, the ability to “see” the spiritual in one’s life and in the memory of that life and maybe it is that spiritual aspect that links us one generation to another.
Rabbi Richard F Address