I just spent a huge portion of my last few days putting together photo books in order to reach an ordering discount deadline. Don't tell the grandmas, but that's part of what they're getting for Christmas, albeit late since the ordering deadline was for the discount and not delivery before Christmas (Hi, K & A - Merry Christmas!).
What memories contained therein from the last year! Laughter, some tears over spilled milk, poses with mom, poses with dad, holidays with grandparents, visits to my own grandma (90 in January). I spent these hours and these dollars on these books because, in a way, these memories are important. I want my kids to be able to see their childhood, to see the smiles on their faces and the love on their parents' faces. This is a visual narrative of who they are, the nuclear family being the most important early influence in their lives.
I also want to memorialize the grandparents and the great-grandparents because not only are these relatives part of their identity, these relatives are also special people, worth remembering in their own right. I have faint memories of my own great-grandmother, a feisty Englishwoman who married an injured American soldier who enlisted with the Canadian army because he could be part of the war effort earlier. I want my kids and grandparents to remember their own grandparents and great-grandparents.
Yesterday in church, Pastor Alfred used a sermon illustration of a woman who used to sit "right there" in church, and who made remarkable pickles. He correctly assumed that almost nobody would even know who she was, even though she hadn't been gone all that long. That's how fleeting our legacy on earth is. Even my own descendants several generations hence will maybe eventually know me as a name on a family tree, with maybe a note or two about something significant, a picture, or a preserved letter (or blog post!). That's it. The sum total of my life, my hopes and dreams, my joys and sorrows, my years of education, my years as a mom, ministry in church: a name etched in stone on a tombstone and maybe on the branch of a digital family tree.
And yet, we all want to be remembered, and we very nobly strive to preserve the memories of those whom we love. My husband's family did a remarkable job of that at a recent family reunion, even re-creating the Christmas gifts that Great-Grandma would send to her dozens of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren every year. Another generation and that memory will be gone. Another generation and her recipes (currently enshrined in a cookbook) will likely be gone, too. That's just the way it is.
The ancient Greeks believed that the only way to achieve immortality was to do something so significant that people would remember you. And so you had the creation of epic tales like the Iliad and the Odyssey, tales of Greek heroes who are immortalized through their deeds. In modern times, think of the recent death of Nelson Mandela; we mark the passing of this great leader by stories of his life in honor of, and as a means of, preserving his memory. If you do not believe in an eternity of which we are a part, this does seem like the best you can do.
I admit that I am so steeped in my Christian worldview, that I cannot wrap my head around the philosophical rationale of atheists who still believe that what you do right now matters. To me, the only explanation for this is that "eternity has been set in their hearts" (Ecc 3:11); that they somehow know that there is a judgment, that there are eternal consequences. Why else would we not eat, drink, and be merry? Why else does it matter how we treat our fellow man (or animals)? Why else do we want to be remembered after our deaths? We humans can't help but weep at our sorrows and (most of us) strive to be mostly good: that is eternity in your heart. But in the end, if this is all there is, it is a chasing after the wind. What you've done won't matter because you will be quickly forgotten, much more quickly than you would like to imagine.
The great news from our sermon yesterday is this: if you are in Christ, you have a God who knows your name and who will never forget your name.
It matters what you do now. It matters that you be remembered. "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."