This is the time of year for remembrance. It is the end of another year; it is the beginning of the holiday season, and we revisit what we have, what we love and what we've learned.
Growing up, my family drove 8 hours to Pennsylvania to see my Grandma every Christmas. No matter how late we arrived, she would be awake, warm us up something to eat and then tuck us into bed. It is hard to remember the specifics of those weeks - a lot of cooking at her side as she patiently taught us to make pie crust and other goodies; writing and acting out comedy shows with the cousins to the great amusement of the rest of the family; watching Uncle Buck (Grandma would laugh until she cried); going to Mass at St. Vincent, the giant church on the hill; eating Jioio's pizza and playing bingo. These are such small things. Yet they are as real to me now as the fact I go to work every day.
Did those days really ever end? Is there not some parallel universe where we are all still celebrating Christmas together? Where the drive-in movie theater is still open, the bingo numbers are still being called, the pizzelles just finished baking? Where everyone we loved is still alive?
A very long time ago my dad and I were in the front yard, and I was lamenting the fact that our beautifully blooming irises would not last long. The irises were my pride, as I selected and planted them - great, glowing purple and white beauties positively reigning over the other plants. And while we cut them and put them in water to enjoy their beauty and scent, it was ultimately to watch them fade.
His response was something to the effect of: if they lasted forever, you wouldn't appreciate them. This answer didn't satisfy my teenage self then, but now that I am older, I begin to see his meaning: these temporary things we have - sunsets, flowers, vacations, a whole pan of brownies, glimpses of Heaven - simply cannot last, because it is not in their nature, and it is not what God designed them, or us, for. You remember them, and you hold on to their memory, and in doing so you learn their value. If you have that good thing, whatever it is, all the time whenever you want it - well, it's not special. Then the scent of irises is no more special than a bottled perfume waiting on the shelf.
We can take this further and say, too, that not only is life not meant to be all sweetness and beauty at all moments, but that the sorrowful times critically necessary. As Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote, "Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday."
How much I would love to see my family again as I did when I was eight; to peel chestnuts for stuffing, listen to oldies on New Year's Eve, see my grandfather play accordion and sing Christmas songs.
But no matter; I remember. And it is in this remembrance that I can still find meaning and value, even when the real thing is long gone. Thank God for memories, even when they pull us back.