As a single young man in his twenties and early thirties involved in immensely anxiety-inducing and fairly spectacularly unsuccessful efforts at courtship, Abraham Lincoln gloomily and despondently fretted over the fact that he had not done enough in his mind to cause anyone to remember that he had lived. It is clear by the fact that I am writing this more than 150 years after his death that he certainly did enough to cause people to remember his life, from being a consensus pick for one of the best (if not the best) president in American history, to having a large monument to his name, an entire historical society devoted to writings about him, among many other signs that the memory of him is an enduring one, even if often an imperfect one. Even his enemies, after all, remember him in order to heap abuse on him and curse him, which is not the best way to be remembered, but is certainly a sign that one’s activity has been notable enough that one cannot simply be ignored or consigned to oblivion.
In some ways, this has been an exceptionally odd feast for me. In looking at the names of the people in choir, I knew I would know a few people here, but there are quite a few people whom I have seen whose presence here has been a surprise to me. A couple of young adults who I knew when they were young enough to grab on to my leg in innocent play gave me a hug, as I have not seen them for years. I gave directions to what seemed like about a dozen or two dozen teens with a slightly lost and clueless look on their faces to the Teen Bible Study before my own Bible Study began. I had the chance to meet a young man who I have not talked to in about fifteen years. Right now he is a teenager, in the latter stages of high school, but when I saw him last he was an adorable toddler who would occasionally sit on my lap while I would talk at our mutual large dinner outings after services. When I told him that upon meeting him again last night, he gave me a bit of an awkward smile, evidence that as usual I said what was perhaps the most witty but inappropriate thing to say in a situation where one is seeing a decent and friendly person after fifteen years. I did notice him among several people who turned around when I answered a random quiz question in today’s sermon from a minister who is a slight acquaintance of mine, who once spoke in Tampa in late 2010 when my pastor at the time had been removed from the speaking schedule in his own congregation on account of his seditious tendencies.
There have been quite a lot of random occasions where someone has come up to me or our paths have crossed where we have had to play the game of how we had met each other. Some of these people have seen me online, some of them have met me at random feast sites around the world, some of them have lived in the same congregations of me but where both of us have gone elsewhere, and one person even met me at a random summer camp when I was a teenager and he was my assistant counselor, a camp where there were five people from my church after a church split, one of the more awkward experiences of an extremely awkward life. These random occasions of bumping into people I know vaguely and slightly and who remember me are very striking, and more than a little bit uncomfortable, as it leads me to think that rather than not being memorable at all to others that I am perhaps too memorable for my own safety. If slight and passing acquaintances can remember that they knew me from a decade ago, then anonymity is not an option. After all, today was a reminder of the many ways I draw too much attention to myself, from my loud and friendly conversations to my smiles and greetings to everyone I pass by, to singing loudly on a glorious high tenor part in special music and being on the stage for the hymns to chatting with ministers and parents of the children in my Feast education class and children’s choir, or chatting with the sound crew in order to make sure that the children’s choir performance goes well from a technical standpoint, to loudly answering the quiz questions of ministers in sermon messages. I do too much, too conspicuously, too consistently to not draw attention to myself on a continual basis. I guess I have to learn how to live with it, since I don’t know any way I would be less friendly, less bubbly, and less full of continual activity.
So, I suppose on the one hand I can feel glad that I have done enough in life, even with the modest level of success I have achieved and the fact that my most heartfelt longings for love and honor have been spectacularly unanswered so far in life, to be remembered fairly widely. There are no doubt some people who treasure their memories of me, who view me fondly, and who enjoy the unexpected meetings that we have over the course of mutual travels along the same path. There are no doubt others who find me memorable but curse my memory and find it as a haunting presence, something that I find greatly unpleasant, as I do not believe I was put on this earth to be troubling to anyone, at worst the sort of irritation that eventually leads to the creation of gorgeous and precious pearls, and the sort of provocation that encourages growth and repentance on the part of others. I do believe I am in the right place this year, but what it means is something that is still unclear to me.