It might come as a shock to you to learn that my wife loves chocolate. However, as we’ve gotten older, she and I have developed much more of a taste for dark rather than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is, of course, much more bitter, especially when you first start eating it. But the health advantages to dark over milk are absolutely massive, and, after a while, you can develop a taste for it that makes milk chocolate seem way too sweet, way too bland and, honestly, fake. And I think this is often the case with memories, too.
Recently I had the chance to look through some old family photographs with some of my cousins and my aunt and uncle. It was a great time, but the craziest thing was to see these people who I have always associated in one particular context shine in ways completely outside my box. I saw pictures of my grandma as a twenty-something. I saw my mom as a teenager. I saw my aunts and uncles as kids. And I saw my grandfather, who I barely knew in life, and his magnetic smile. Their stories were distinct. Their lives mattered. And these pictures showed their experiences at some of their sweetest moments.
But then, thrown in with these pictures of bright smiles, were newspaper articles about when my grandfather’s car was hit by a train. The only reason he survived was because he was propelled through the windshield, hitting the road beyond in a shower of glass. And, of course, it was a number of years later that another car crash claimed his life.
Rewinding back a few years in my life to my early twenties, I received a call from my (other) grandfather. He’d had a major health crisis while on vacation, and he needed me. So I got on a plane, flew to Arizona, and helped him get back to his home in Oregon. I ended up staying with him for four months. Then, at the end of those months, he died.
If you’ve ever been a caretaker, you know how difficult that position can be. Especially when you are isolated from everything you call normal – your family, your girlfriend (later to be wife,) your life. But I wouldn’t change any of it. Looking back, there is bitterness. More than anything, I miss my grandfather. We were incredibly close from the time I was a boy. But there is a sweetness that far outweighs and, in some ways, is even enhanced by the bitterness. I still remember us going out for a walk to the local grocery store, him in his wheelchair and me pushing from behind. We were talking about lightning storms, of all things. And that is one of my fondest memories. Perhaps that is the case because it was such a victory to get him out for that walk. It was a bright spot that rose above the darkness trying to pull it down, and that made it all the brighter.
I mentioned in my book “The Complete Cancer Diaries” a quote from the movie “Vanilla Sky”: “The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.”1 The sour is inevitable. But I believe that we can harness that sour to enhance the sweet.
Rather than dwelling on the dark, stabbing moments and letting them absorb us, dwell on the bright and the beautiful times in-between. Sometimes even those will hurt. But cling to them. Don’t let them go. Every moment we have on this earth is precious. And those moments should be celebrated. Our loved ones and our friends and our times past have had brilliance burning inside them. But once we have moved past them, the only way they will still burn is in the brightness of our memories or, even, in our imagination. And they deserve to be remembered and reveled in. They are what make us us. And they are what made them them.
Well, there’s one other place these people and times still burn. And that is the sweetest part of all. Because, some day, our own flames will flicker out. But as soon as they do, a blaze of glory will arise around us, and we shall see those friends and loved ones again. We shall see exactly how those memories and times past shaped us. And then we shall move into our best times yet, with our loves long lost. And we will journey together into the embrace of our Father who is Love Himself.
This was one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. In fact, I’ve been working on it off and on for weeks. I don’t know why exactly, but it just never seemed to click. I hope it has now, though. And I hope it’s coming out at exactly the time it was needed. If you needed it, God bless you. I’m here if you need me.
– In memory of Marian Troyer.
(My new book, “The Complete Cancer Diaries,” is now available for $15.99 in paperback or $2.99 in eBook. You can get it right now on Amazon by clicking here.)