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Wikipedia photo of abandoned building by Billy Hathorn

The beauty of remembering


By Martin Elfert

Earlier this week I was in Berkeley, California for an event that was equal parts continuing education and mini-retreat. Berkeley is where I went to seminary; it was the place where I spent three wonderful and sometimes challenging years.

And being back there was strange.

I suppose that, objectively, not all that much time has passed since I left – I graduated in 2011, just a little over six years ago. Neither the landscape nor the architecture shifted in any meaningful way. But that didn’t stop me from having the sense this week of returning to some distant land, the sense of rediscovering an almost forgotten chapter in my life.

I wonder if, in one or more of this earth’s many languages, there is a word for this curious remembering?

This remembering is something other and more than wistfulness. When you visit the city in which you used to live, the school that you used to attend, the building in which you used to work, the place where you played in the summers of your childhood, you find that the landscape around you is laden with electricity, that it is charged with a quiet, humming potential. Here, your memories become ghosts and walk the earth. At any moment, you know that your old teacher will step around the corner; that your Mom, youthful once again, will call your name; that your childhood friend will come running up to you with the red ball that the two of you kicked back and forth until it was reduced to tatters.

Except that they don’t. In this place, the ghosts of yesterday may be near, nearer even than when you sit in the chair with the photograph album in your lap.

But they remain invisible and quiet.

I guess that I am grateful to the ghosts of my former home because they remind me that the days when I knew them in the flesh were good days. And I am grateful as well because the persistent invisibility of the past reminds me to cherish the present. Someday, you and I will no longer be able to see one another and touch one another – at least, we will not see and touch as we do in this moment. Someday, you and I will be each other’s ghosts. But for now, we can see, we can shake hands, we can hug, we can look into another’s eyes, we can say thank you and I’m sorry and I love you. For now, we are here.

Martin Elfert

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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