Thursday, September 21, 2017


“Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine”
  • Mac Davis/Elvis Presley - “Memories” (1968)

The recent hurricanes have triggered a lot of thinking for Nancy and me. We’ve found ourselves wondering how we would respond if we’d lost our home and  all our earthly possessions. Would we be so crushed we wouldn’t be able to go on?

In terms of material wealth, we’ve been blessed far beyond anything a reasonable person could, or should, expect in life. Pop theology would tell us we earned it all. Christian theology, on the other hand, tells us, that material wealth is often a trap on the road to perdition.

Knowing that, we see that the most valuable things we have are one another, our shared faith, and the memories we’ve built in our 31 years together.

I met Nancy at a time in my life when marriage was the last thing on my mind. I’d done marriage once and I’d failed miserably at it.

My logical approach to life was simple. Being a bachelor freed me up to spend  Saturdays with my buddies, not antique shopping.

It started slowly, with pleasant conversations outside Broadway Baptist Church after a class Nancy and I were attending. As one week blended into another, my admiration for her grew until I was head over heels in love.  I was like the cartoon character whose heart was bouncing on the end of a spring, with train whistles blowing smoke from my ears.

I was hooked. We were married on September 13th, 1986.

My most vivid early memory came when we moved to New Jersey. We rented an 1836 Victorian house in Montville. It was a lovely place. Nancy especially loved watching the birds in the morning as she sipped her coffee. On this special morning, she spied a visitor she hadn’t seen for a while. “Oh, Phil!” she exclaimed as she squeezed my hand tightly. “It’s the flicker.” The moment might have escaped my notice if it hadn’t been for the power of the squeeze. Nancy is quiet and contemplative. She prefers silence and introspection in the mornings where I prefer noise and activity. The power of that squeeze taught me that, while Nancy is quiet, there are very powerful things stirring in  her soul. That little bird clearly had a very special place in her heart.

I’ve never forgotten what I witnessed that morning. I’ll always treasure it.

A few years passed and the morning found us still living in New Jersey. Unlike her normally quiet times, Nancy was making a lot of noise downstairs while I was still trying to sleep. I got irritated  enough to ask what was going on. “If you get cleaned up real quick, we can make it to Cape May for breakfast,she responded with a sense of urgency.

Cape May, which is known for its bird sanctuaries and quiet little inns, was a hundred miles to our south, but how could I refuse?

A few hours later we were sitting in a little inn, ordering breakfast. As I looked around, I noticed something that had until then had escaped my notice. I was aging. I saw the other patrons and realized, “My God, I’m as old as them.” I was having an encounter with my mortality. Nancy seemed to pick up on it asked a really strange question. “So, Slick, tell me what you’ll do with your life if I die before you?” I saw right away what she was trying to tell me. Our morning encounter wasn't just about my mortality. It was about ours. I tried to avoid answering, but it wouldn’t work. Nancy persisted. “I finally blurted out, “I don’t want you to ever die,” then started blubbering like a fool. Nancy would have none of my sentimentality. “Look, Slick. We’ve got three choices - you before me, us together, or me before you and if I go before you I won’t be coming back just to please you. I’ll be in heaven, so you need to get past your sentimental Irish ways and figure out something productive to do with your life if I die before you.”

I didn’t sink in at first. It wasn’t till later that night as I read a passage from C.S. Lewis’s “A Grief Observed,” that I saw how selfish I was being. If push were to come to shove, I'd have been willing to snatch her from heaven if it would benefit me. I’d forgotten that Nancy was a person distinct from me, that she wasn’t put here just for my amusement.

I think this is what Lewis must have been feeling when he wrote of the grief he felt when he lost his wife, Joy Gresham,  to cancer: What sort of a lover am I to think so much about my affliction and so much less about hers? Even the insane call, ‘Come back,’ is all for my sake. I want her back as an ingredient in the restoration of my past. Could I have wished her anything worse? Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn’t Lazarus the rawer deal?

Memories have been added over the years - international trips to Switzerland, Ireland, France, Austria, Israel, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom, quiet morning conversations,  planting gardens, sipping wine on our front porch on cool Kansas nights as we watched the world pass by

We've been together for 31 years now. They've been the best 31 years of my life!

It’s so true. Possessions come and go, but memories stay. They really are the permanent things in our lives and we need to treasure them.