Pete said that sentence often. He said it to punctuate the end of the day. He said it to punctuate a story. He said it to provide a lens through which he wanted others to understand the world. And he always included it in prayers.
Since Pete married a pastor and so many of our friends are pastors, it made perfect sense that when we gathered for a meal, we would ask Pete to pray. He would jokingly say, “The room is lousy with pastors and you want the bass player to pray?”
Pete didn’t close his eyes when he prayed. His prayers always felt to me like he was directing an intentional conversation with someone present at the table. As we bowed our heads, Pete would clear his throat, swallow and begin, “Dear God, we live with an embarrassment of riches.”
Turns out we pastors knew what we were doing; the bass player had great theology.
Even on days like today, the day after dozens were killed in Las Vegas by a person holding a legally acquired weapon. Even on days like today, I believe Pete would mention the riches with which we live.
This lens of always remembering the riches in our lives has served to frame most of my memories for the past two decades.
The longer Pete is gone, the more I find myself framing memories. In fact, coding and storing memories is essential if I am ever going to be able to recall and remember my life with Pete. The better I can code and store a memory, the better chance I will have at not forgetting.
Unlike short term memories, long-term memories have a physical presence in the brain. Neurons create actual physical connections and those physical connections endure whether they are being used or not. They need physical space in our brain.
Storage and encoding go hand in hand. Storing a document in a specific folder helps define it. We access memories based on how and where we store them in our neurological brain cloud.
Grief this last month has often felt like a “memory making factory” has set up shop in my brain. As if there is a sharp witted woman in the recesses of my mind who is calculating the right size, shape and color of each memory. She is coordinating the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch that is associated with each memory. She is working overtime and I am so grateful for her but I also worry about her accuracy in the coding and storage of these memories.
Sometimes she hands me memories where Pete is larger than life. Our life together in the memory is all light and no shadows. And that’s not accurate. Our life had lots of shadows.
Pete was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis 12 years ago. I will code this diagnosis as happening halfway into our marriage. But I will also code his diagnosis through the lens of the riches. We lived with a lot of riches at the time, some very specific riches. For example, I had just begun my first pastorate. This community of faith fit me so perfectly that everything I ate at the time tasted like it had extra butter in it. That wasn’t all. Dan had found his love, Faith. She belonged to a piece of his heart long before he met her. She says it this way, “there was a place in Dad’s heart, a nest of sorts, that was made just for me.”
We had a lot of light, a lot of riches. A diagnosis of MS formed an obstacle in the light and shadows were cat around it. But we only knew those shadows because of the light that was there in the first place.
How much of the shadows would Pete want me to keep intact for long term retrieval? What would Pete say of the woman in my brain who is working so hard at coding and storing? What would he say about how important it is for me to remember the way he felt when I hugged him or what his voice sounded like when he welcomed me home?
How would Pete code and store the memories of our life together if he were the one trying to ensure long term retrieval?
Well I think he told me how. He would code and store the light first. When he would say, "we live with an embarrassment of riches," he was defining life by the light and not by the shadows.