Water On The Rock

I’ve written this piece for The Commonplace Book, but I think it’s important enough to insert here, too.

Think of a big event in your life, something that you believe has left a deep impression on you since it happened. Got it? OK, I’d like you to go with me for the next minute of so. Keep your chosen event in the front of your mind.

How much time has passed since the event occurred? Do you see it differently now? Does it have a different meaning, to whatever degree, than it used to have for you? What can you no longer recall about it?

I’ll stop with the questions. I could have gone on and on asking them, one by one, layer by layer.

My point is this: as your event has drifted further and further into the past, you’ve gained some things and lost some things about it. 

That’s the effect of the passage of time: you gain from it and you lose from it.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that an appreciation of history (or “love of”, “knowledge of,” “use of” or any other positive phrase you choose to insert for yourself) is purely additive. It’s not.

Time’s passage is also negative or reductive: it takes away, weakens, blurs, obscures, clouds, and siphons off, along with polishing, streamlining, compressing, and clumping together. Each of these words and a thousand more describe the impact of moving time, like water on the rock, quietly and ceaselessly every minute of the present day.

What exactly is lost? I have part of the answer. I’ve found in my history ministry that 1) it’s the details and the specifics—the rawness—that disappear over time. They fall steadily away. And yet, I’ve found also that 2) it’s in the lost details and specifics of what Washington or Lincoln or King did on a particular day that my alumni have discovered the most worthwhile learning, meaning, and growth. 

Think about that pair of points for just a few seconds. That’s a rather sobering thought, isn’t it?

I’ve made it a priority of my life to recover, restore, and relate this rawness where I can (no more r’s!). Now, I don’t expect or even encourage you to do what I do. But I do think it’s important for you to consider both yourself and the people you love and, from there, to seek when you can to grip the details and specifics of those big events in life that must be cherished and remembered. Water on the rock.