Little Joys—Long-Term Memory

This morning, my devotional referenced Elizabeth and Nathaniel’s pregnancy experience, and it got me thinking about the words recorded about Mary in both Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51. Mary treasured the startling events and moments in Jesus’ early life. She tucked them away in her heart for safekeeping, to ponder and remember later.

There are lots of miraculous birth stories in Scripture—Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, to name just a few. No matter what the backstory, once these promised babies arrived in their miraculous ways, they had to be nursed and weaned. They had to be rocked and shushed and sung to sleep. As they grew, they needed to be taught everything, just like my children, from how to hold a spoon to how to drive a car and everything in between. You have to teach children everything. Without long-term memory, it would be easy to lose the sense of the miracles each of these creatures are amidst the rubble of everyday life.

There is a sliver of miracle in every birth story, but some seem to have overcome even greater odds. Our son, Elvis, is one of those births. In the monotonous and normal days since his recovery and release from the NICU, the things that were said about him, the coincidences and synchronistic moments that nurtured those fragile days, I’ve treasured all of them in my heart.

Sometimes they slip out in conversation. I am compelled to say again what a miracle you are. Let me tell you once more how it was when you were born.

Memories of past events like these have a way of surprising me when I least expect it. Some aroma, some turn of phrase, something a friend or family member says will trigger the release of that memory, and suddenly I’m taken back, taken aback, to that moment in time. And now that the memory has surfaced again, it is being manipulated and transformed once more, by whatever is happening in the present, so that what I remember of the past and what I have made of the past evolve over time, changing even as they change me.

There are so many different moments that happen in any given day, and yet only so many of them make the transition from short-term to long-term memory. Some long-term memories are bizarre details I can’t make any sense of—why, of all things, do I remember that day? That moment? But most of those memories have shaped my identity. They have helped me to understand how I became who I am. Some are the origins of my worries and fears, while others serve as the touchstone of my self-worth and sense of being loved.

Where would we be without long-term memory, without the ability to pluck these moments out from all of the other ones and remember who we are? What a gift, what a joy to be surprised again by the treasures in our hearts, the treasures of early days, the treasures of the wondrous things that have been and have been said to shape ourselves and our loved ones.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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