“Divine things are not named by our intellect
as they really are in themselves,
for in that way it knows them not,
but they are named in a way
that is borrowed
from created things.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Looking up from my journal this evening, notably cooler air caused me to narrow my desk window’s opening. Not to be mistaken, this brisk air is welcome. Through summer’s writing, my journal has been propped open with a small rock which I’d pulled up while swimming in the lakes region here in Maine. The small fragment from a lake floor had been rounded and formed by its waters, and it’s been my handy paperweight. Now, the rock has become a reminder of freshwater swimming on a hot summer day. Scooped up by my hands from beneath the surface, I held the little rock in my palm, facing up to July sun. Finding its textures and shape appealing, it wound up in my backpack, and then upon my desk.
In varied ways, reminders come to us. They may be gifts transferred to us, discoveries of our own, and even reminders we deliberately seek out through our travels. Objects, sounds, sights- even tastes- potentially call to mind paths taken. Reminders point to past events, as well as ahead to needed strength in order to persevere. I think of my father when using his typewriters and when calling upon my better common sense. Cooking favorite foods brings memories of my grandmother back to me. A life of always having music in my midst, there are lyrics, songs, and symphonies to remind me of where I’ve lived, worked, and travelled. An employer once complimented what he called my “go-for-it attitude,” and I try remembering these sorts of words during quagmired times. Then there are the many negative reminders which require formidable discipline to sort out and deposit in their proper places. The full spectrum reminds me of my journeys past and those I might anticipate. Time and circumstance help determine which reminders remain. The small rock that serves as a paperweight may not be kept for long, but the source stays with me. Recently, during a day of bicycling across an island, setting the bike down, and with my back against the terrain I had a strong impression of resting atop a mountain whose base lay anchored at the bottom of the ocean. It was a sense of being supported. To be prompted to recollect is to be invited to certitude. Knowledge and remembrance are parallel threads.
Reminders may come to us as inherited discoveries. Through time, we become recipients of the gifts of those around us. Their recollections can become ours, too. We all receive keepsakes in varying forms, and that surely includes stories. In this way, we are also discovering gems that land in our paths. Although significance may have been ascribed by predecessors, we can add our own appreciation. In sharing reminders, we can assure one another of the great purpose to our steps. Reminders may also manifest through our unique definition. I think of these as the reference points that we establish ourselves. By observing our own experiences, significant images emerge. As we accumulate sources and repertoires, these are accompanied by reminders sought. This is to say, they’ve not yet occurred, but they will because we understand the search. In other words, we are reminded to discover. The term “point de repère” speaks to the idea that a “point of reference” is equally a “point of departure,” or a “benchmark” (“niveau de repère”). Times of retreat fit into this category, and for me it has been sanctified time away from routines- often in places conducive to contemplation and community life. Another, more ordinary activity is writing in coffeehouses; my favorite venues each have their own histories. Places can remind as forcefully as artifacts can.
Our finest reminders are those which re-strengthen. During a visit with my mother, a few years ago, she surprised me with a gift of an item I never knew she owned. Accompanying this extraordinary yet humble artifact was the associated story of how the family that rescued my mother from the worst of the Holocaust gave her a specially blessed silver medal from the church in Sablé, Normandy. My mother had carefully kept it since the early 1940s, through decades and crossing the Atlantic, finally deciding to pass the medal along to me. I had never seen this before. The tiny silver etched medal is my most prized possession in the world. Indeed, the brave and generous family chose it well: it is the image of Perpetual Help. Of course. That makes sense now. If this small sacred icon could talk! It is with me, and so are the stories, names, places, and my mother’s gesture that brought this reminder to my life.
As well as points of reference, reminders are compass points. Direction connects destinations with origins. Past and horizons are called to consciousness. Reminded of what to seek, we are also reminded of what to avoid. In doing the latter, we develop ways to find the buoys and markers that indicate treacherous shoals. Further, with time, collections of recollections grow into a many-storied experience, a reference source in itself. At the same time, along the same voyage, reminders must not encumber. Unburdening is integral to the process of collecting. Through the vastness of our landscapes, with open spaces, one can carry only so much on their person.
While considering some of the ways by which life’s gleanings are called to mind, there must be purpose in their faithful preservation. Surely, there remain lights to be found in darkness. Countless gems are as yet unsifted. Reminders are found in recollections received and discovered- and even in written words we read. With our kindreds, we are able to remind one another of what we recognize among us. The reminders of our loved ones become points of reference for us, too. I’ve begun to perceive my travels as being both fresh experiences and reminders at the same time. Though daunting in these times, we must daringly remind one another of the future. What is yet to be needn’t resemble what is now or what has been left in the past.