“The past is prologue” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest). This phrase has come to mind and seems to have made a nest there. I think the reason for this is the conversations that I have had with my sisters lately. My sister said to me recently that she had no “happy Christmas memories with Daddy, do you?” Since then I have been exploring memories from my youth. What I have discovered in the process is that Shakespeare was right in noting that the past is prologue; at least in the context of determining the choices we make. Perhaps a better way to interpret it is the idea that history sets the context for the present.
So let me set a bit of context. My father was an alcoholic, causing his death at the age of 40. So I immediately understood the context of my sister’s question and grieved at the thought that there were none of the happy Christmas memories that most parents want to give to their children. The memories that often tend to surface are twofold. There are the moments that are experienced like someone coming to the house to give us Christmas gifts that our “Daddy had ordered.” These were in reality gifts from the kindness of strangers. But if I stop and really recall life with Daddy there are far more memories of his drunkenness and all the “stuff” that comes with it, like very loud physical altercations between mom and dad. Not that Daddy ever laid a hand on Mom, rather Mom’s anger often led to the throwing of things.
I was nine when Daddy died. I am a huge fan of my Mom because after Daddy’s death she went to work and used insurance money to buy a modest home so that she could provide for the two daughters that remained at home. And with a tenth grade education, working as a cook and waitress, she proceeded to provide us with a comfortable home.
Past is prologue. My past could have led to a very different future than the one I have been blessed with. As a Salvation Army Officer I have witnessed that, for some people, the negatives of the past became a problem that haunts them. They continuously beat themselves with the bitter memories of past injuries and injustices. And then there are those who are haunted by the choices they failed to make, or the roads they have taken that have led to dead ends. And on and on… Past is prologue?
Past may be prologue but it is often how the past is remembered that determines how it affects us in the present. While walking the dog this morning I was struck by the long shadows we were casting and was reminded how the memories of our past cast long shadows over us. Memory is a powerful gift given to us by God that allows us to always recall His work and presence in our lives. Memory is perfume from the past that has the power to cast a pleasant aroma or terrible odor.
Barbara Streisand sings a haunting song about this. “Memories light the corners of my mind/Misty water-colored memories of the way we were….Memories may be beautiful and yet/What’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget.”
Remembering and memories are not intended to paralyze us, but to free us. That has been my experience. What my past did was to drive me to seek to have a home–free of alcohol–where there was a loving, Christian father who loved me and sought to live up to the title of husband. My past urged me to develop good memories for my family and in the doing found that those are the memories that have become my prologue.
While we cannot always turn our memories on and off at will, we can practice remembering the good things; we can cultivate a memory for what blesses us and helps us along. How sad when so much of our memories are taken up by dwelling on things of the past that we can never change. What a tragic waste when so much life-energy is drained off by our hanging onto what should be turned loose. There is a good word for us in Job 11:6: “Forget the misery and remember it as waters that pass away.”
What I have learned to do in the ongoing process of life is to make the high moments of my life as unforgettable as possible. The noble, the good, the beautiful, have all been entered on my memory’s roster with an indelible ink that neither circumstance nor time can ever wash away. I remember giving my life to God; I remember the first kiss from my husband; I remember the day of my sanctification; I remember the first breath each of my children drew; I remember wondrous moments of ministry when God used me for his purposes. I have experienced the truth of this musing by A.W. Tozer, “What we think about when we are free to think about what we will – that is what we are or will soon become.”
Past may be prologue, but it is only prologue; it is not the whole story.