Kathryn Pasker Ineck considers the impact of memory as a function of bonding with our loved ones.
One of my older sons recently turned 17. Seventeen. I was lamenting to his older brother that I don’t really know how we got here. I always envisioned myself as a mom of babies and toddlers. Preschoolers. I was good at babies. Teenagers? Teens are still kind of a head-scratcher. I did not envision mothering teenagers who tower over and fuss over me, and who also argue with me just as they did as three-year-olds. One still looks guilty even when he’s innocent, and one is still gifted at changing my mind—to his own benefit. With this conversation fresh on my mind, I woke from a quick afternoon nap with a dream I can still feel in my bones.
I dreamt I came upon one of my sons as a baby: I was surprised to see him, dressed in a tiny striped onesie and denim overalls, and I scooped him up into my arms. I was startled by the sweet baby-sounds he was making: cooing and blowing spit bubbles. I forgot! I forgot their little voices! I thought. He felt so sturdy and solid in my arms. I forgot! I forgot their weight and warmth! I realized that he had a rather full diaper and as I lay him down to change him, his chubby little hands attached themselves to my clothing and he clung to me with his entire little body. I forgot! I forgot how it felt to be so necessary to them! I forgot how demanding they were and how I knew that it was just a season of life but some days they were so physically exhausting that it felt interminable. In my dream, though, I just stood and held him, swaying back and forth, enjoying his baby-ness. Drinking him in. Because even in my dream, I knew it was a dream and I just didn’t want it to end.
It occurs to me that, even though I have scores of pictures, a handful of video clips, a few favorite outfits, a last pacifier, and receiving blankets galore, these material keepsakes don’t quite capture their fleeting babyhood. I have often worried about and pondered over Our Lady. She didn’t have scrapbooks or photo albums for her one and only beloved Child. Was she even in a position to be able to keep a blanket or special toy? After that dream, though, I knew with visceral certainty that she still has her memories. She has her life experience.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that, after the birth of Jesus, after Mary and Joseph entertained the angels and the shepherds, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19). It is interesting that St. Luke records this, as there are so many other details left out of the Gospels. Why is this noteworthy? The very fact that it’s recorded tells us that the Apostles and Gospel writers personally knew Mary. It also tells us something about the importance of the very act of remembering.
Memory is the unsung gift here: we often take memory for granted until we are confronted with the reality of a loved one suffering from dementia or perhaps amnesia. St. Francis de Sales differentiates two kinds of memory: head-memory and heart-memory. Head-memory is important for safety, education, and even telling and understanding our own life-stories. As very small children, we draw upon remembered information to help us get our needs met and understand dangers in our environment. We need it for adding new information to our personal store of knowledge and for mastering new skills. We understand who we are and where we came from through our memories.
Heart-memory, though, is a little different. Heart-memory is important for bonding. Memory of shared life experiences bonds us to other people, to our family, our friends, and perhaps most significantly to our God. We see this in the way we tell and re-tell stories, often around the Christmas dinner table as family members come together from near and far to celebrate a shared faith. St. Francis de Sales notes,
A heart-memory is better than a mere head-memory. Better to carry away a little of the love of Christ in our souls than if we were able to repeat every word of every sermon we ever heard.
He is spot on, and Mary knows this intimately. Her memories bond her with her Child, and carried her through the worst of times, through her sorrows, and into joyful hope. While my babies are certainly not the Christ child—and I am certainly not the Holy Mother—they are gifts from the Father. Memories of their babyhood offer me a glimpse into that long-ago, wide-eyed, joyful hope for the lives they would lead and the wonder of their very existence. It unites me to Our Lady, who certainly felt the same wonder over her precious Son.
Copyright 2021 Kathryn Pasker Ineck
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About the Author
Married for over two decades to her best friend, and mom of four tweens and teens, life is never boring for Kathryn. She pursues the heart of God--led by His gentle Mother--and relies on the Divine Mercy Chaplet, a desire for chocolate, and an insatiable thirst for reading into the wee hours of the morning. She writes to maintain her sanity at Kathryn Pasker Ineck.