Several months ago, I found a dusty box in our garage. When I opened it, I saw books inside that were so familiar I could almost believe it hasn’t been 15 years since I’ve seen them. Reaching into the box, I pulled them out in one stack.
In my hands I held the bulk of my old piano books: sheet music, practice books, even the three-ring binder that held the marked up senior recital piece I worked on all year back in the mid-nineties.
It’s been so long since I’ve played these songs.
I brought the stack into the house with me and sat down in front of the piano. Would I remember how to play them? Would I have to strain to remember the notes?
Placing the music on the piano rack and my hands on the keys, I paused expectant.
I didn’t play them well by any means, but I was surprised at how much I remembered. Rather, I was surprised at how much my hands remembered. It’s like they knew what to do even while my mind was still two measures back — what was that note again? Oh well, I’ve already played it.
It’s like the music has been hiding somewhere in my body and all it needed was for me to wake it up.
Just last week, my daughter held an ornament and stared at the Christmas tree in front of her, but her gaze fell somewhere beyond it. “It feels like last year again. I mean, I remember exactly what I was doing this time last year.”
“Last year” for her was fifth grade. Each year her memory bank grows ever more full. And though I’m sure I would envy the list of things she was doing this time last year — making up stories, imagining middle school, being 10 — I also remember what I was doing this time last year.
It came back to me a couple of weeks ago when I took a sip of my first peppermint latte of the season.
I had a big deadline — a book due just before Christmas. This time last year, I was spending hours in quiet corners of the library and the coffee shop and my own house, head down to do real work, knowing I couldn’t put it off any longer.
Greedy for time and lots of creative space, I took whatever John would let me have and spent every minute writing, thinking, planning, all with the backdrop of bells — silver, jingle, or carol-of-the — always coming from somewhere, either the speakers of the coffee shop or the relentless loop in my own head.
I remember sitting at a small round table near the door at one of those shops, cold blasts of air blowing the pages of my notes each time the doors opened. I can almost feel the excited, breathless feeling I get sometimes when I’m creating as well as the inevitable I-want-to-burn-my-laptop-because-everything-I-write-is-terrible that always seems to follow.
And all it took was one sip of that latte to bring all those memories back. This time, the memory was in my tastebuds.
Sounds, smells, and tastes might be the closest we’ll get to time travel. They have an enchanting way about them, able to transport us back, to conjure images we’ve long forgotten.
Every season comes bearing the gift of a new beginning. But don’t be fooled. Because these seasons we walk through, though they hold out something new to experience, they still arrive familiar, well-worn, and well-traveled.
Each season is layered with the seasons that have come before them.
We have all experienced December before, have memories of Christmases past.
It seems benign when an ornament reminds us of last Christmas or a holiday latte brings back a tough deadline, but sometimes the triggers are more serious than that.
A particular person we only see this time of year might trigger us to say the kinds of things we thought we had grown out of.
A local tragedy on a particular holiday might awaken the grief we thought we had moved past.
A conversation, though harmless in intent, might remind us of a break up, a loss, or a long-ago dream never realized.
It’s in these moments when we learn the memories we thought we had either dealt with or buried still live inside of us.
Some of us would give anything to go back to this time last year.
Others of us would give anything to forget.
Memory is a funny thing — subjective, illusive, prone to hyperbole.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to hold onto and what to let fall gently away. And so perhaps you would like to ask our Father along with me — Remember us.
And we don’t simply meant “don’t forget” us. No, we long for more than that.
Take that which is a part of us, all the broken bits, the worn down and worn out places, the pieces of memory we’re not sure what to do with, and re-member them.
Put them in their place, we pray. Give us a holy imagination. Re-arrange. Re-align. Re-order our lives in Your presence.
Your name is God With Us and we believe You are. As we walk into another season of Advent, allow us to receive the new beginnings You offer without denying the layered places from where we have come.
Slow us down in Your presence, we pray.