They’re closing down my old elementary school. The article in the hometown newspaper says that the school board has decided the maintenance costs are too high to justify keeping the school open. The new use? Offices and storage space. The place I spent six of the formative years of my life will no longer enrich the lives of children in that South Texas city where many of the events about which I have written happened. The newspaper article was brought to my attention by another friend the other day, so I posted it on an online page which plays host to a few generations of alumni of that school. The result was amazing and even a little confusing. There had been no activity in the past year on the page. Now, a couple of days later, I have to scroll down on the page again and again and again, still not reaching the original posting of the article from a mere forty-eight hours ago.
I’m trying to figure out this phenomenon. As long as the status quo remained, no one was concerned; we didn’t even deem it prudent to expose our memories in public. Tonight, many aging adults share a common bond with people they have never met, simply because the use of an old brick building changed. As long as the routine was unbroken, we were content to let our memories lie unexpressed. Now we are compelled by some unseen force to talk about first grade teachers, principals, lunch tokens, Halloween carnivals, and crossing guards with complete strangers, whose only connection to us is this sixty year old building and its history. Whatever the impetus for the conversation, I’m thoroughly enjoying it!
Memories are funny things, though. It is possible to get so tied up in the past that we miss the import of the present and the potential of the future. That’s why I love having children around me – because they lend an onus to make sure that we help their memories to be happy ones. The events my grandchildren are living through now will be the memories they share with old friends forty and fifty years from now, just as I do now with you. If all we do is live in the past, neglecting the present, we risk abetting in forming memories of dysfunctional and unhappy interactions, instead of bright, joyful ones. I also have a few of those dark memories (as I’ m guessing you do), which I’ve not dwelt on, either in my mind, nor in my writing, simply because I’m not sure either would be profitable. Some may be woven into a few of these pages when it seems beneficial, but most are best left in the dim shadows to do no more damage.
I’m convinced that we can learn from the past, but also that we must live in the present, as well as having hope for the future. To that end, a generous dose of memories from years gone by, mixed with dreams for the days still to come, seems to be a reasonable tonic to make the present a very acceptable place in which to live.
Our memories don’t fade simply because building are torn down or re-purposed. We don’t lose sight of loved ones, simply because they no longer walk this earth with us. Our memories are a gift, given by a loving God to remind us of the good things, as well as the less happy events which have shaped who we are.
I remember with fondness the line to the cafeteria, one child after another, rubbing our lunch or milk tokens against the brick wall. Those little plastic disks soon wore down to tiny nubs, but still entitled us to the meal or drink we had paid for. In much the same way, as we age and the years erode the clarity of the events and memories, we still continue to reap the benefits of those early days spent learning, and growing, and living.
Maybe while we’re remembering the past, we can take some time to make a great memory or two for the future today.
“We must always have old memories and young hopes.”
(Arsene Houssaye~French novelist~1815-1896)
“Old things are passed away. See? All things have become new.”
(2 Corinthians: 5:17b)