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Memory and Eternity

May 10, 2011

Memory is an image, perhaps an echo, of eternity. This seemed a very strange idea when it was first proposed to me. Memory is about the most uncertain, short, unreliable thing we have, and eternity is the longest and most unchanging. Anyone knows that.

But nothing from God is simply inferior; each of our gifts has a perfect place, and memory can be full of sweetness and beauty. Its evocative power is famous and powerful. But this is not going to be about that sweetness, though, or that evocation, or even about how much we forget, but about how memory makes a self possible.

Suppose you had no memory, seriously no memory, and you went to get a glass of water. Halfway to the faucet, you forget why you are going there. People do this all the time in nursing homes. Weird.

But it can be much worse. Suppose you forget what the faucet is for. My mother-in-law had such an incident once after a stroke. She went to the faucet, glass in hand, and then couldn’t remember how to use it.

Still, it could be worse. Suppose you couldn’t remember what a glass was, or what water was, or what you were supposed to do about thirst. Then what?

Everything we do depends on the way that memory stitches life together and gives meaning to the objects around us and to the words we use. Life would drift along meaninglessly if it were not held together by great networks of memory.

Similarly, eternity holds time together and makes it meaningful. The whole of time sits in eternity, which is not just a very, very, very long time. Eternity is not time at all. Eternity takes all the little experiences that are strung along time for us and puts them together as aspects of a meaningful whole. You need eternity to get the most out of time, to see the whole in relation to all its parts.

Like memory, eternity gives us our selves.

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