The defining memory of our lives

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In Judaism, no-one ever dies as long as someone remembers them. For this reason, on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, the Kaddish, a prayer of remembrance, is said by those who hold dear the memories of the deceased. And what is it we really remember?

Ultimately it is not the height, weight, complexion or the color of eyes or hair that remain with us after the death of a loved one. It is something of the spirit of the person that lingers— often the values that motivated their behavior, comical or wistful, that we recall.

Memory can be kind. When we think of parents long gone, parents who may have suffered from lingering illnesses at the end of their lives, many of us find that those painful memories are not the ones that bubble to consciousness when we remember them. Our memory bank opens for us to other times and seasons. Images resurface of our loved ones still healthy and vigorous.

A recent Japanese film entitled After Life presents a waiting room where those recently deceased, spend a short time before moving on. During the week they have access to the waiting room, they are asked to think about their lives and choose the one memory they wish to keep with them for eternity. All other memories will be lost to them. What would be the defining memory of each of our lives, if we had to choose? For how many of us would that image take us back to our own childhood or adolescence? Would such a memory link us to a beloved life partner or to our children or grandchildren?

On the occasion of our eighteenth wedding anniversary, I decided to gift my husband with an 18-page photo album, each page representing one year of our lives spent together. Selecting a single photograph from our overstuffed albums to represent each year was challenging enough. Just one image from our entire lives? Indulging in a reflective exercise of this nature is a fascinating way to review our lives to this point and may leave us with the question as to what those people most intimately involved in our lives today would select as their memory of choice. Hopefully such consideration may lead to us re-evaluate how we conduct ourselves and how we relate to others as we try to leave an imprint for goodness in our relationships, families and communities.