Recently someone came up to me and asked, “Andy, do you remember me?” Then it happened again a couple weeks later. My memory had to be jogged briefly on both occasions, but each person had remembered me from my time spent at two Jesuit universities in the last few years. I hadn’t seen these people in a while so it was nice to have the chance to chat and catch up. The joy, though, in each encounter was in being remembered.
The act of being remembered makes you feel appreciated and worthy. It’s the same as when someone tells you they were thinking about you the other day or that you came up in conversation. Consider the feeling you get when some past relationship or brief encounter that was sitting dormant for ages in the recesses of your brain gets retrieved and brought into consciousness.
So, what makes the act of being remembered so special? As members of Western culture we have tended to become isolated from one another. We often live in our own world, on our screens and in our news feeds. When someone remembers us, we’re reminded that there are relationships to be had beyond ourselves; there’s a wider community of which we are a part.
In my grandmother with dementia, I am witnessing the gradual diminishing of memory, where important events and relationships can no longer be recalled. Thankfully my grandmother still knows me and immediate family, but I fear the day I can no longer be remembered by her. There’s something about a lack of remembering that creates a break in community. When a person is no longer remembered, they lose their importance in the community of the “forgetter.” It is scary to consider a parent or a spouse seeing you as a stranger. They would not see you as part of their trusted circle. It would seem as if years of memories and the forming of a relationship was for nothing. This is why being remembered by those two individuals felt so great: I felt acknowledged by them as a part of their wider community, someone they didn’t forget.
Consider Jesus’ wider community extending from his immediate disciples to us. At the Last Supper he asked his friends to remember him through the Eucharist and for centuries since that moment we have been remembering Jesus at our Eucharistic tables (and at our dinner tables.) Through our acts of remembering we keep Jesus as an important part of our community. And God actively remembers us as well. Jesus assured the good thief on the cross, who said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” of this. Throughout the Bible we discover a God who never forgets and keeps us as important members of the kingdom through the act of remembering.
The word “remember” literally means to “again be mindful of.” It is not a one-time event. It happens again and again. Over and over, God is mindful of us and we are asked to be mindful of God and neighbor. In prayer, remembering happens. In charity and generosity, remembering happens. In listening and being present to others, remembering happens. By doing what our faith informs us to do, we acknowledge others as important and worthy parts of our community. Our isolation tends to only acknowledge the self, but Christian remembering is founded in Jesus’ example of widening his embrace to the larger community, beyond his family, friends and religion.
I think I get caught up in the day-to-day, where the community I identify with is that closest to me: my partner, my family and my classmates. I forget sometimes about those from times past, those who’ve helped shape me, and those who’ve just passed through my life briefly. Most of the people Jesus met on the road he only knew for a short time. He may not have had long-term relationships with them, but they were still part of his community. Even the briefest encounters with others are worth remembering, worth giving value to.
For the two who remembered me recently, I was just a very small part of their life. But their act of remembering me showed me that God calls me outside of myself, to recall those worthy and valuable people in my life who call me to greater things. And unlike someone with fading memory, like my grandmother, God will always remembers us, again and again holding us in community.