In the late sixties, I attended a small women’s liberal arts college at which faculty members were nearly always accessible to students—and sometimes a little quirky. One, a crusty old bachelor named Dr. Brice, sometimes introduced a riddle into the middle of a lecture, promising “extra credit” to the first student who solved it. Here’s an example: Two perfectly preserved human bodies are found in a cave. You are able to identify them immediately. Who are they, and how do you know?
One evening, a classmate and I were eating at The Elbow Room, a hamburger hangout a few blocks from our dorm. As we finished supper, I jumped up exclaiming, “I know! I know! Come on!” Mystified but willing, she dashed with me to Dr. Brice’s apartment. He invited us in. I had gotten it right! (The answer is in the next-to-the last paragraph below.)
All this is according to my classmate, who recounted the story last weekend at our 45th class reunion. For my part, I have no memory of it. I suggested that she had me mixed up with someone else. No, she insisted. She was certain I was the one.
Shared memories are amazing. There were some things that all of us attending our reunion could recall without question—though some of us had slightly different versions of the same event. Sometimes we could piece together a whole story by pooling fragments of what we remembered. Sometimes even combining shards of memories could not fill in all of what happened. Occasionally a specific memory could be unearthed or confirmed by memorabilia preserved in a scrapbook for four and a half decades. Sometimes—as in the story of Dr. Brice and the riddle—we simply had to trust our classmates’ memories. In each case, however, a rich and generous goodness came from our sharing. Speaking our memories helped us see ourselves and others more clearly and with more compassion. Reflecting on our memories brought us a greater understanding of who we were then and who we are becoming now.
In the coming weeks, as Christians observe Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, and Jews observe Passover, some of the world’s most treasured memories of shared experiences will be shared in families, churches, and synagogues around the globe. Like those of my college classmates, those memories (and fragments of memories) sometimes differ slightly in how they recollect an event. They nevertheless have become stories we tell and re-tell, for they help us see ourselves and one another with compassion and appreciation. They help us understand our experiences. We hold them as sacred.
Memories of our own lives can be sacred, too. The story of Dr. Brice and the riddle? I’m still wondering why I didn’t remember it, but I delight in its return to me. The story reminds me of the goodness and generosity of that time. It gives me a sense of continuity between how my mind worked then and how it works now. It makes me feel seen and valued by the friend who held that story all these years. It gives me a sense of gratitude for her having shared it (particularly as she shared the answer to the riddle as well: Adam and Eve. Because neither had a belly button). It is a memory I will cherish, even as I consider to ponder it.
In what stories of shared life or faith do you experience affirmation? Which of your memories feel sacred to you? Can you ask someone to remind you of a piece of your story you may have forgotten? Are you holding a memory of someone else’s story that it is now time to return to that person? Whatever the stories you remember or tell or hear in the weeks to come, may you find in them rich and varied blessings.