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.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
This is hauntingly beautiful and so true. There are layers I want to remember and layers I would give anything to forget. All of them, however, woven together, remind me why I need re-membering…why I need Advent…why I need the saving grace of a Savior! Thank you for this offering to start my day…
ps. I’ve also been dusting off the piano keys. I promised my 81 year old mom we’d sing carols around the out of tune piano this year. It is amazing how the music is still in there waiting to be brought alive again.
emily p freeman says
Thank you, Bev. I’m glad to know these words have resonated. And yes – isn’t there something so life-giving about dusting off those piano keys?
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Emily, I agree with Bev. This is a beautiful and layered post, and for me, it peeled back a number of layers of life I’d not considered in awhile–like the muscle memory that guided my hands in playing CPE Bach’s Solfeggietto the other day at Mother’s–hands that thought they’d lost that memory. (I’d not played this in years!) And in church the other day, I sang all the carols from memory (even though the congregation and I were singing different words, because the lyrics had been changed in the contemporary hymnals). Sometimes new layers are added to our experience, unbidden (and, I might add, unappreciated). And when you mentioned finding your college piano books and later implored God, “Remember me,” my mind drifted back to a layered page from a college vocal score from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, to an absolutely haunting song I’d sung called “Remember Me” (Dido’s Lament)–and the memory itself was haunting, because I was so miserably unhappy at that time in my life. And I’ve been thinking a lot about memories of writing lately–about the joy of shaping words and lines that sing with poetry and rhythm and about the pain of letting fingers go stiff and the keyboard go cold, because God buried that layer, unbidden by me. And this post evoked for me about how *literally* just yesterday (I can’t believe the serendipity here!), I was thinking of doing a layered collage as a kind of self-portrait about the loves, values, and laments of my life. Your post, layer by layer by layer, did all that for me. Granted, what I am saying will not make a lot of sense to you or anyone else who happens to glimpse my words (and it’s early in St. Louis and I’ve not yet had my requisite cup of strong tea to awaken!), but maybe that is what a good blog post should do–allow God to awaken some memory, some insight that is specifically, especially meaningful to each person. Isn’t that what He does when, as you say, He re-members us? He loves us each intricately and personally. He loves us as a tender, personal Shepherd. I’m thinking that this year, Advent, for me is about Jesus coming to be born in me anew–it’s about resurrection in my soul right here, right now….I’m going to submit to Him, as He peels back layers, Lazrus-like, and to obey Him when He says, “Lynn, come forth!” Honestly, Emily, this is the strangest blog response I have ever written. And once I wake up (I’m headed for my tea and my Bible), I will re-read what you have written and what I have, and ask God to peel back layers of truth for me as I remember Him and He re-members me. I can’t thank you enough for your part in that process.
J. Waln says
Oh, this post moved me so much! Also, I love your layered thoughts, Lynn. They set a chorus of “Glory!” in me. Thanks be to our Lord for such lovely minds and persons unknown to me yet familiar by my own soul-knowing.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
J……whoever you might be (God knows 🙂 ), thank you for your gracious words. I’m so grateful. Honestly, I was soooo sleepy when I responded to Emily’s marvelous post, that I had no idea if I were even making any sense. So I appreciate this confirmation. And actually, it proves afresh that God wends our words where they need to go and also that sisters unfamiliar by friendship are one in the Lord–always. God bless you and merry Christmas! Glory, indeed.
Beth Williams says
Loved your response! The layer upon layer of memories you have! May God bless you this Advent!
Lynn D. Morrissey says
And may the Lord bless you, too, Beth. What a really sweet thing to say. Thank you, and Happy Advent!
emily p freeman says
Lynn!! This is so beautiful. You should comment more often before you have your strong tea! xoxo
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Emily, I’m wide awake now, and that really made me smile. You’re so sweet, and this was an incredible post. Thank you for it!
Gail Noe says
Thank you for this sharing. For me, especially the part about asking God to put it all in His place bringing forth what He has purposed for that memory or that event. Just this morning, I have been asking Him how He wants things done that were on my heart. Our family Christmas is very different this year and does not look like years gone by. My heart wants/needs to know how the Lord wants this done. In Christ, all things are made new. So amazing to have a Heavenly Father very interested in every detail!
Lisa Appelo @True and Faithful says
“Re-arrange. Re-align.” Oh I’m praying these words this morning, Emily. Remembering all the good and asking for new, good memories.”
Emily, you put it so well. I’ve been contemplating the seasons and how we only get to live THIS season (the one we’re in right now, today) once. But you add dimension because in the living of this season, the memories and images of similar seasons past come to reside with us.
I want to live this season well, but I don’t want to negate the lessons, the memories of past Christmas seasons. And most of all, I want the reality of Jesus to be woven into my words, my responses, my choices in this season. I love the image of God re-membering us. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. They ministered to my heart!
Another beautiful piece that touched me because of its relevance in my life. So many times during the day I will listen to a song and it will take me back to a time I wish I could relive. Only because we can’t see what’s ahead–we can only see what we’ve left behind–do we long to go back to seasons before us. Thank you Emily for these words.
Joanne Peterson says
Emily, I know it is the understanding and our Savior’s story, and the understanding of our own story that will bring the healing we need. Everything, no matter what has purpose, meaning, intent, and will ultimately bring good. The going through painful events are hard, and allowing the grief to take place, processing the grief, and then replacing the thoughts with Truth will bring healing, Jesus heals us. Then we can allow the change of our heart and then our own mind and vision will allow us to see our seasons with Hope. Beautiful post. Blessings, Joanne
Christine Hickey says
Joanne, your comment has touched my heart…I am presently going through many “painful events” accumulated over decades, and just now beginning to experience the grief I never had the opportunity to allow before. It helps so much to read your words of hope that there is healing on the other side of this pain, Thank you and God bless…
Alison Jane Again says
Christine, can I just say I feel so much of what you’ve written, I’m living this journey now. You comment ‘I’m experiencing the grief I never had the opportunity to allow before’ so beautifully sums up what I’ve experienced over the last 12 months and yes, it does bring healing. It allows God in where we keep Him out of, when we try to keep the hurt out, and although the pain and loss and sorrow can be great, it is then we truly learn just how big our God is. I pray you know this through this time, thank-you for sharing your heart xx
Christine Hickey says
Just saw your encouraging words, Alison Jane, thank you. Sometimes I think we must go on past what has happened, staying strong, because present issues and responsibilities to others are pressing upon us. Setting aside my own grief, seeing the urgent need for love that others had and acting on that is what I did…not certain it was the right thing to do. Over time the earlier trauma became buried some how, but it seems that now is the time God has allowed for me to heal. He spoke to my heart during that terrible time promising that I would “be healed”, but that it would “take a long time.” I have held on to that promise these many years, sometimes unsure that it was He who spoke to me…I am not there yet, but my heart is surrendered…I really need your prayer….God bless….
Alison Jane Again says
Joanne, you have spoken words I haven’t been able to articulate, and for that I thank-you. The last 12 months, since an event just before Christmas last year, and after many Christmas-es over the last 20 years bringing much pain, have been spent exploring and coming to understand my story, processing, re-defining many false beliefs in His truth and coming to experience what it is to truly depend on Christ. I’ve been able to see that every traumatic event has served a purpose and yes, has ultimately brought good. There is stil a lot of road before me to travel, and this time of year slows my steps, but I know there is always, always hope and love everywhere I go. Thank-you xx
I felt something like this the other night.
We were in the high school gymnasium, for the school Christmas concert. It was time for the last song. The school’s choir director took the microphone, turned around and invited anyone who loves and respects the beauty of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to please come up front. We were all invited to sing along with the high school choir.
It was the coolest thing. For some of us, it had been years since we’d sung it. The music got passed around, the choir director lifted his hands, the pianist began playing, and all of a sudden, … glory. We made a heavenly sound!
On my side of the risers, we found the alto part, just like it was sitting in the corner of our hearts, waiting to be found again after all these years. It was the best feeling.
I have hard memories, too, some that probably need to be tended to more carefully, quite honestly. But, I’m so grateful for the good stuff that gets stuck in our hearts and minds, to help us sing in times like these.
Thanks for your good, needed words, Emily.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Jennifer, once you know that chorus, you always remember it! So glad that you had that opportunity to sing it. Mother and I heard Messiah this past Sunday at our symphony hall, and I had everything to do to keep my mouth shut. At Easter, our church choirmaster invites anyone in the congregation who would like to, to come forward to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. I never have a score. It’s written in my heart. And then, at my annual Christmas luncheon here at the house, at the end of the program (after lunch I give a talk and we have special music and sing Christmas carols), Mike cues up the CD player and turns it up loud, and we all join hands and sing the Hallelujah Chorus (along with the Bach Society of London!) around the dining table. It’s been a tradition for about thirty-five years now. And the women know it by heart!!! GLORY, indeed!
Thank you Emily. I so needed to hear this. This past summer we moved from a place where I’d lived for 27 years. I’ve had a hard time entering into Advent and the “Christmas spirit” because there is now another layer(s) of memories with each decoration placed and ornament hung. Although last year was a “year I’d like to forget”, the memories of it linger, mixed in with the good. I love your prayer at the end of the article. It really resonates with me. A good Advent prayer! Many blessings!
Rebecca Jones says
When I was younger, I imagined my life so different. We all have plans of our own but God’s are better. I wasn’t so far off His mark, and He really is Immanuel, God is with us, that’s a beautiful thought I intend to carry. I have already searched out the Prince of Peace. We all have so many layers, some are warm and toasty blankets, and some are onions that make us cry, yet, God is with us.
heather marshall says
Songs do this to me too…certain ones can call up feelings from long ago… what a funny thing our memory is. Your prayer is divine. To slowly savor this Christmas and appreciate its many layers is my wish. ♥
Beth Williams says
Beautiful and lovely post! It has many different layers in it-each intriguing! My first Christmas with my hubby was a memorable one for both. It was 2003 or 2004. We sat together on the couch and watch “Charlie Brown Christmas”. That show has more meaning to us now. My hubby cried and when I asked why he was sad–“Last year I was alone and now God has sent me someone”. I felt the same way!
This Christmas is different from many many others–rather hard. My mother has been gone 6 years now and my dad was put on hospice this July! Tough times as I sit by and watch him slowly fade away from dementia. Also I’m not working and that adds another layer.
Have a blessed Advent!!
Lina Rochette Hill says
Thank you Emily for sharing such a positive way to look at those not so comfortable memories that can sneak up on you… I love the idea of Re-Membering them. =) Thanks!
Teresa Tackett Hardymon says
Emily, as always your words are beautiful and stir in the depths of my soul making me ponder and appreciate what God has given. This year I’ve scaled down and am doing my best to focus on the people. Just today the thought occurred to me that I may not have many Christmases left with my Mother due to the Alzheimers that resides with us. The time I have with her is precious. I may have a to do list and my instinct may be to think now is not a good time, but if she walks over from her house because she needs to see me I adjust the list and put her at the top because spending moments with her is my most important to do. We have memories to make and the time we have is a gift not to be taken lightly.
Ellie Gray Fant says
I’m not sure how to find the words Emily to tell you what is going on and how what you’ve just written will probably have one of the biggest impacts in my spiritual growth this year but… Daddy’s gone. After 38 years of a crazy dis functional relationship and the last 3 with congestive heart failure, he is gone. For many of those Christmases, it seemed I did not exist to him or I was a burden. For the last 3, he needed me as in was in the hospital and I was there and now he’s gone. I keep thinking I should be okay but I’m not. I’m a disaster. My physical body is falling apart at what was one of my greatest and happiest times in life. The Lord has used all of these things to grow me through the years. He has provided in ways only a Heavenly Father could and filled every gap. I think maybe I also feel that I’m letting the Lord down as well as stupid as that may sound. This is my new growth. “Put them in their place, we pray. Give us a holy imagination. Re-arrange. Re-align. Re-order our lives in Your presence.” That’s it. I often quote the hymn… “leave to thy God to order and provide”. I prayed God would order and provide …sorta sort my feelings and organize my heart and soul before Daddy died but I have not slowed down enough to allow this. My pot just boils over lately, without permission, and tears just flow against my will. I want the Christmas and the sad music and the hustle and bustle to stop until I’m stronger. I feel like someone is stealing one of the last few Christmases I have with my 8th and 9th grade daughters. I will pray this. I will grow. I will be forever grateful to you for these words and perspective even if you never wrote another word. Thank you.
Madeline Osigian says
I love this! Thank you, Emily!
Flower Patch Farmgirl says
Oooh, this is so lovely.
Laura Fleetwood says
How amazing that God created us with senses to experience and remember this life to the full. Just imagine how lovely heaven will be!