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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Horror of Forgetting

I was driving around Glenview today putting up flyers for our Outdoor Worship services, and as I pulled in and parked at a Starbucks, I did a quick email check on my phone.

I thought I had a few minutes, so I pulled open an email of Breaking News from the Washington Post; scrolled down to the top 5 articles of the day.

As almost an afterthought, I clicked this link: A Fatal Mistake

I read it and as the words pummeled me with their fists, I felt my arms start to shake. I wondered if the woman walking past me into the grocery store saw my strange movements through the car window.

My breath got quicker. I felt like I might be sick.

The words kept coming; the images kept coming; I wanted to stop reading and I scanned as quickly as I could but it wouldn't stop.

I was horrified.

The article was about parents who forgot their infants or toddlers in the car seat for an entire day - often to go to work. They thought they'd dropped them off at daycare. They never had.

The infants died of heatstroke. A slow, excruciatingly painful death described in horrifyingly graphic detail.

Why am I writing about this? Why am I submitting you to the same horror I felt when I read this article?

I believe that words are incredibly powerful things. That when what I've read produces such a profoundly powerful reaction in me, I'm going to somehow have to work my way through it so that I can go on living in the midst of such incredible horror.

I'm not sure what will come out here, but I pray that somehow God will speak to me in the midst of my horror.

The crux of the article was this uneven administration of justice to the parents who had forgotten their children in the car. Some were prosecuted as criminals. Others went on with their lives. One has gone on to have more children. Another is divorced. Many are suicidal.

Ultimately one man is acquitted, and he drops pathetically to his knees, unable to speak.

A memory researcher argues that this forgetting is not a function of how much the parents loved their children, but rather a scientific confluence of factors that leads to a horrific forgetting.

In all of the stories there is a singular moment of terror: the call from the daycare, from the babysitter: Where is Matthew?

He's not with you?

The dropping of papers, the slamming of a door, a dash into the parking lot -- the collapse into the pavement and the rush of insanity at the horrifying irreversibility of death.

As a mother, I don't have to make this fatal lapse to experience the horror. It's the same horror I feel now when I watch those alerts about a kidnapped child, a sexual predator, a school shooting.

It's another child in the story but the images that rush through your mind like a screen reel of confounding evil -- those images are your own son or daughter. Those images for me were of Jake - the horror sick-feeling moment when I imagine everything that could happen to him when I'm not there. When I - inevitably - forget something.

You know I'm not convinced really by the memory researcher. I don't think I'd ever forget my child in the car for an entire day. As a parent, how could you ever think that? Our children are not capable of being forgotten. Sometimes I look at Jake and my whole world disappears.

And yet this horror happens. Parents who by all accounts were loving, nurturing, devoted -- make this horrifying mistake and live through that terrible instant where not only death comes but they were the cause of this death and now it is too late and life is gone.

When I imagine it being me, as the bile rises in my throat I see myself as the one father, who, seeing his dead child, lurches for the policeman's gun and fires at himself.

These horrifying images aren't going away. I am writing through it and yet the images keep coming. Forgetting is easy it is the remembering that does us in.

Where is God?

Tonight I am meeting with a few other folks for our first Theology on Tap in Glenview at a local pub. We're going to ask the Big Questions and try to wrap our arms around who we think God is.

If you believe in God, like I do, then you also find yourself with these wrenching questions in the midst of horrifying sin, evil, and death - even the seemingly motive-less forgetting that ends in the death of a beloved child.

Where was God?

We scream at God Where Were You?

There is no justice, no resolution, no "it was meant to be' platitudes in these deaths. Only sorrow and horror.

In our world, God saves; but children and adults still die. God's work is unfinished in this world. Sometimes the forgetting evil wins.

Our brains are crowded by deadlines and taxes and bills and DVRs and sometimes there is no clarity in our thinking.

I find myself rushing so that I might stop breathing and then the oxygen rushes in and sometimes I remember to pray and hug my son.

To be still, and know that God is God.

God's Son Jesus died.

God's Son Jesus rose again.

We live our lives in that dualistic reality. The reality of death and the reality of resurrection. The reality that sometimes we will be horrified and horrify ourselves and sometimes we will be stunned in the stillness by the beauty and love that is here too.

Sometimes we will think that life is over when new life is already beginning in another corner of our lives.

Sometimes we will horrify ourselves by forgetting ourselves. Forgetting our faith. Looking around and realizing that after years of neglecting to pray or to think or to worship - we've forgotten the faith and the God who brings life out of death, and the life-giving water comes first in a trickle and then in a gush but it doesn't come right away because we forgot.

I am a mother who loves my son Jacob more than I thought it was possible to love, and thus I cannot say I could ever imagine committing this fatal lapse.

But there is some humility in me. A glimpse into the fatality of forgetting.

Once, when Jake was about three months old, I loaded him into his car seat for a quick ride home I think from the downtown area of Walnut Creek to our apartment, about 10 minutes away.

He had been so tired that he fell asleep in his clip 'n' go Britax stroller - which basically served as a frame to put his carrier in and function as a stroller seat.

I lifted him out of the stroller, still in his carrier, and - careful not to disturb him - snapped his carseat into the base.

I folded up the stroller and put it in the back of the car.

Shut the trunk. Carried the diaper bag to the passenger seat. Buckled up. Drove home.

Parked. Got out. Walked around the side to open the door.

I never had strapped him in. I felt both ashamed and incredibly fortunate that we hadn't been in an accident.

I've never told anyone that story. I tried to forget the time I forgot.

I think human beings all have terrifyingly horrible lapses. The ones in this article paid an ultimate price, and I can only believe that this final forgetting did have its warning signs in forgetting leading up to it - but maybe not. Death and sin and even the sins of omission do not come in any understandable way.

The horror of this forgetting - the horror I still feel as I rush through this blog and imagine getting Jake at daycare in just a few minutes. Just a few minutes more. He will be OK. He must be OK -- the horror of our own imagined and real forgetting is matched only by a God who does not forget.

God knows me and knows you and God never forgets.

God weeps at each and every death that happens on this earth. God does not forget a funeral. He is there, crying with us.

God remembers. God remembers each name so that each one who has died might be risen.

The horror of our forgetting is matched by the power of God's remembering, of God's promise to us on the Cross - that no death will be forgotten - that none will die anonymous - that the power of resurrection is not merely a memory but an active assault against forgetting.

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