Dostoevsky once said, “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life than a good memory, especially a memory of childhood.” Individually, nationally, and culturally, we are all rich or poor according to the abundance of good things we have stored in our memories.
We often pass through life unaware of the significance of the events that will be tucked away in our memory banks. But, every now and again something touches us in a way that we immediately recognize its significance. This was the case on the afternoon of August 18, 1993 when I sat in a courtroom of the Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis with the family of Thoi Dai as Thoi became a citizen of the United States.
Thoi took the oath that made him a citizen with sixty-one men, women, and children from literally all over the world. Twenty-nine countries were represented including Africa, Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, the Caribbean, and Central America. People speaking a rich mixture of languages and representing every imaginable culture and religion, drawn together by only one thing. The desire to become an American citizen.
In his public remarks the judge called attention to the ethnic diversity that has been an important part of our American heritage from the beginning. He said, “We are a nation of immigrants, sons and daughters of forbears who came to this country last year, or fifty years ago, or three hundred years ago.” Then we stood and recited the pledge of allegiance led by two of the youngest new minted citizens. The words of the pledge came back with a flood of memories. For a moment, I was once again a school boy facing the flag with my hand over my heart, feeling proud to be an American.
Memory makes all of life and learning possible. Without it, we would begin each day with a blank slate. Without memory, the lessons from the past could not be passed on to us and the concept of the future could not be grasped. The great reformers, statesmen, and prophets of old have always insisted that they were simply reminding us of precious truths that had been forgotten. God’s love is eternal by our memories are finite. A well-used memory is a holy thing. It is a way of using the best influences of the past to influence the present and inspire noble conduct.