God is in the details

When families gather together and reminisce, one is often shocked by how others remember particular persons and events. We carry with us an eclectic composite of memories that have shaped us over the years, and that have colored our opinions about how the world works, but occasionally two persons will remember an occasion or encounter so differently that they have trouble recognizing the shared experience. 

When the memory concerns an innocuous event, the banter back and forth is usually light-hearted and entertaining, as each helps the other to see that his details are incomplete or wrong. But for the more serious events in life, the details — accurate or not — become seared in the psyche. There is little joy in going to the heart of the matter, because to re-image the details is to interfere with the very person himself and how he has coped with that memory. 

This is where the gift of motherhood is so valuable in a family circle. As we have people over to our homes in the coming weeks, and the relaxed visits turn to “Do you remember?” a wise woman would do well to talk less and listen more intently to the conversation. To remove herself from the discussion may prove challenging (we do remember!) but the reward will be to hear astonishing things about how the others have been processing family life and its challenges.

The advantage to listening to such exchanges is two-fold, in that an attentive ear can distinguish the difference in how events are packaged for retelling and whether anger, animosity, or bitterness have been caught up in the residue. A motherly ear, used to the tone and inflection of those she loves, will distinguish where subtle fault-lines may rest, and prayer will then tell her what to do about it. 

I confess to scratching my head over the misunderstandings from the earlier years of Marriage. My children will laugh over chaotic situations from years ago, having no grasp of the complexities we were dealing with at the time. Or they may laugh about their parents’ “tantrums,” oblivious to how their childish inanities accumulate over time until the silliest action triggers a mental collapse. Furthermore, their breezy dismissal of various details transforms their parents’ attentive care into a string of blunders that make their very survival appear miraculous.

While those memories served up with increasing embellishment may give one’s pride a serious thumping (all for the good!) there are other accounts that creep into the telling that remind us of the pain, the anxiety, and the resentments that linger after most have moved on. While squabbles of old may make for amusing folk-lore, in many instances a loaded phrase will enter in (for example, “you always,” or “she still,” or worse, “I never ”). When “always” or “never” are thrown in, it may indicate that walls have been erected delineating behavior that doesn’t change, suffering that endures, or characterizations that are cast in stone. These must be addressed. 

The attentive mother will take note of such reference points and bring them to God, Who sees all. Whether or not the memories correspond to reality is irrelevant — they have formed the pattern that either strengthens the family bond or undermines it, and that’s the reality that needs to be addressed.

A quiet one-on-one later can serve to soothe the ache, restore the breach, or reorient the affections. It’s a delicate — but essential — process. Let this guide your interactions this summer, and may the balm of forgiveness carefully applied allow our family reminiscences be true occasions of joy for all. 

Anchor columnist Mrs. Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius.typepad.com.

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