The holy gift of forgetting
An encounter this week made me wonder how forgetting can be a good and holy thing.
I met up with an old colleague I’ll call, Carey. Carey is a vibrant, vivacious, creative soul who is full of life and overflowing with kindness and compassion. We worked together on a church project a few years back, and I hadn’t seen them since before the pandemic. They were quick to offer up memories of our time together, reminding me of the joys we’d shared and the fun we had.
As our coffee and tea cooled down to drinking temperature, we took turns attempting to summarize the changes of the past two years. There were deaths, epiphanies, periods of extreme loneliness, and, not surprisingly, a few turning points.
Then Carey shared something which, to them, seemed innocuous and ordinary, but that, to me, revealed something true and wonderful about who they are. They recounted a decision they’d made to go with their instinct when faced with a big decision, because their instinct pointed them in the direction of beauty and possibility and fun while also being perfectly sensible.
“That’s a gift of yours,” I said. “You have a way of reaching for things that are totally imaginative and exciting while at the same time being the most obvious and natural thing in the world. It’s just something you do.”
As with Carey and their gift, my observation seemed innocuous and ordinary to me. But as soon as I said it, their countenance changed. Tears began to well up in their eyes.
“That is true,” they said. “That’s something I do...”
“I completely forgot that about myself.”
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash
We forget ourselves.
We do this all the time. In our busyness and productivity, we forget our uniqueness. Some of us forget what we look like (or never really have a sense to start with). We forget the parts of us that make us, us.
We are always forgetting, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Forgetting allows us the spaciousness needed to create. Forgetting is an openness. An emptiness. And emptiness can be the location of transformation and holiness.
It’s Easter, and I’ve been thinking about the empty tomb as a space of possibility. I’m wondering, too, how the rich emptiness of the tomb is related to the rich emptiness that forgetting makes possible.
The space created by forgetting can be filled with memories or with new creations. Sometimes both. But the last few years have thrown off the natural rhythms of forgetting, creating, and remembering.
The problem we’ve encountered during the pandemic isn’t that we forget who we are; it’s that no one has been nearby to remind us.
Society broke. We factionalized. We isolated. We lost touch… with everything. In the process, we disconnected from people and institutions that hold up a mirror to show us who we are.
We lost the support of those who help us remember.
Help each other remember.
Forgetting is a holy gift, but that holiness requires relationship to help transform the emptiness into a creative, generative space.
The tomb was empty, but it was also watched over by angels (or drag queens, depending on who you ask) who could tell the story about what happened there. The emptiness was not left alone. It was accompanied by someone who cared.
The last few years have made it clear that creating and remembering are too difficult for us to do on our own. We need reminders about what makes us unique, what makes us ordinary, what makes us extraordinary, and what interconnects us.
Sometimes I think that religious community’s primary function is to hold space for these shifting movements of forgetting, creating, and remembering. The three processes are held in balance, in tension, and the community becomes the container for the processing.
But whether or not you’re a part of a religious community, you can help each other remember. You can be present to remind the ones you love of their brilliance.
Hopefully, they will do the same for you.