I spent yesterday afternoon having tea with my daughter, a senior in college. Some events over the weekend had prompted the invitation to come and chat. Most of what we did, as it turned out, was reminisce. You might think that at the ripe old age of 21 there is not much to reminisce about. But we have always had a close relationship so sitting and thinking about the various milestones in her life could have gone on much longer than the 2 hours we spent.
As it was, we spent our time smiling, laughing, and crying together as we remembered.
We laughed about the skinny, awkward middle school years. We smiled about the insecurity of her high school years, time she spent (as do many young people) trying desperately to figure out who she was. Our hearts warmed as we remembered some significant events and people of her junior year of high school, one in particular, who helped ease that insecurity and move her self-awareness forward. And we cried as we recalled a devastating, life-changing event her freshman year of college, an event that left her mentally bruised and battered, yet significantly stronger.
And perhaps that was something of our mutual take-away yesterday.
I remember at the time of her tragic experience wondering if, when, and even how she would recover from what happened. For months afterward she would say that this event had “killed her.” But as she recovered, I remember thinking to myself that this young woman – this post-trauma young woman – this was the young woman I had hoped she would become someday. And in fact her ‘becoming’ had happened not in spite of the tragedy, but because of it.
Tragedies can often lead to a sort of remembering that tries to press the rewind button on life, remembering that asks ‘what if.’ She and I have done plenty of that.
But ‘what if’ remembering is both unproductive and despair inducing.
Productive remembering looks at the past in a way that takes the full weight of tragedy and triumph into account. It learns from these events recognizing that while we cannot change the past, we can use it to shape the future.
Perhaps this is why one of God’s most frequent commands to Israel is to remember. In looking back, Israel could not only see their mistakes, but see God’s healing hand at work, bringing new life out of death.