Forgetting To Remember

01.15.10 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[3]

Last weekend I picked up on a project I had started last summer before the heart attack - going through folders and files of old songs I'd written in order to put together an anthology of lyrics.  As soon as I started going through the first folder (most of which dated from the late 70's and early 80's) I was struck by the vividness of the memories that came back as I looked through the material.

I wrote my first song in 1974.  The first time one of my songs was recorded was 1977; and through the years a number have been published and recorded by various artists.  But what's been put there in the public space, as I imagine it is with most writers, is about 5% of what I've written.  Some of it is pretty lame; some of it isn't too bad, but there are stacks of notebooks and folders to sort through.

Writing is a cathartic experience; writing honest lyrics demands transparency and a willingness toward introspection.  There's a difference between writing an externally-focused, vertically-directed praise song - something where the object is, say, the Lord, and the theme is praise - and pouring out your heart and soul, often to the Lord, with honesty and candor.  The first is usually much more salable and commercially-viable than the second, but I believe the transparency of the latter is the window we can look through to understand the common insights and struggles we share as people of faith.

Looking through the lyrics I could often remember where I was when I wrote them; not just where I was spiritually or in my life, but literally, where I was when the song was birthed; in my room, on a bus, in a booth at Hardee's at 1 in the morning.  Some took a lot longer than others; indeed, there are still unfinished lyrics that go back more than twenty years in those folders.  I actually did finish one over the weekend too and while I was able to pick up lyrically from where I'd left off in 1984, the depth of experience and spirituality I was able to bring to the lyrics now wouldn't have been possible twenty-six years ago.

Some of the lyrics were born out of difficult times and experiences; broken relationships, when my Dad passed away, when I was wrestling with God over issues of life and faith.  It would be tempting sometimes to not go back; to leave the past in the past and just look ahead; move forward and don't be distracted by the 'unfinished business' of years gone by.  But I don't think we can do that.

Just as looking through those lyrics brought some tears, a little laughter and an appreciation for the wisdom gained on the journey, so it is when we look back at any aspect of our lives and see where the Lord has brought us from.  There are some painful memories in those files but I wouldn't trade the experiences I went through for anything.  Those steps, good and bad, have all been part of the journey.

It reminds me of the quote from Joan Didion, "We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”   

"We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget."  There are things I've gone through in life that, at the time, I thought I'd never forget, but I just about had.  And in forgetting to remember, I unwittingly lessen the significance of the wounds that were healed and diminish the impact of the lessons that were learned.

I'm going to spend some more time this weekend working on the project.  I'm looking forward to looking back and not forgetting to remember.



Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 01.18.10 Marjorie commented

Sometimes the "old me", who is not attractive company, comes knocking in the middle of the night also, and I only thought I could forget what I need to remember. I need to remember and deal with it now, before God and before a supportive friend.

on 01.20.10 Scott R. commented

I agree. I think it's important to remember the past and the things that GOd has brought us through to where we are today. In my life I have some mistakes and regrets but I know God has forgiven me and that I am where He wants me to be with Him.

on 02.03.10 Debbie commented

I have been writing since the age of about 8 (I'm 55 now), and I have found what you say to be so very true. Much of what I wrote during the 80's and 90's came from learning how to walk through the pain, how to rely on God and how to trust Him. I didn't like what I was going through then -- or who I was -- but I could not have written those words without those experiences. And it is true, that sometimes we forget just how painful it was "back then" unless we revisit the words. God is a magnificent and perfect healer!