“..and perhaps it will be pleasing to have remembered these things one day.”
Virgil, The Aeneid
I have to admit it: it’s been hard for me recently as I think back on when my children were younger.
A few days ago my wife and I, and our eight year old son—who is seven years younger than the youngest of the five children above him—were finally cleaning out the basement. This necessarily included going through our huge stash of toys. I’m a little embarrassed to say that many play-things for all ages have accumulated there through the years. It was a tour through the stages of our children’s lives.
Each set of toys—‘little people,’ tinker toys, Lincoln logs—or figurine or doll or sword brought back images of the children, with all the passion and vigor of their childhood. Some things we set aside and kept, but most we discarded. Long use has taken its toll, and the time has come.
My wife and I tried to keep our focus, knowing what needs to be done and that we need to let go. A little later, when our youngest was in another room, we looked at each other, and we began to weep. As we held each other, we remembered with a strange blend of sorrow and joy so very many things. In the end, my wife reminded me that we need to be careful; our youngest must not think that we are living in the past.
Memory. One can use it to live in the past, or one can use to live in the present more fully, with gratitude. To be a person who remembers well is first to be grateful, and to see how the past exists in the present—since the cause is always in the effect. It is also a way of bringing out the power and reality of the past.
What our children were is part of who they are, and always will be. To lose sight of this is to lose sight of what endures even while some things are lost in the passage of time.
When children have grown, it is the honor and privilege of parents to be guardians of what was. Who else was and is so close to that precious reality and thus is capable of preserving it? But not preserving it like canning vegetables for the root cellar, or anxiously holding on to what we can’t let go.
Somehow this preserving is about something that can and will remain, something that remains ours to cherish —if we have eyes to see, and if we are willing to let go and to suffer, to give them life, which is what we always wanted.
The astounding gift of parenting is that it keeps calling us to new stages of giving, and in that giving to become ourselves, and receive back more than we have given, one hundred-fold.
“But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear, he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.”
R.L. Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses
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