“But Zion says, ‘The Lord has abandoned me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, fail to pity the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I won’t forget you.”
Isaiah 49:14, 15 (Common English Bible)
I was once told of a college professor who had been married for nearly thirty-five years when his wife became ill with dementia. Anyone who is familiar with this cognitive disease knows that eventually all memory is stolen from the individual. The professor did his best juggling his teaching responsibilities and caring for his wife until he could no longer do both. As he put it, he faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life when he placed his wife into a memory care center located nearly two hours from their home. Each day, following his last class, he would drive the two hours to share dinner with his wife. After some time with her, he drove the two hours back home to teach the next day.
Four hours of drive time each day eventually caught up with the professor. The emotional and physical toll was unmistakable as he realized that such drive time each day was not sustainable. Only one option presented itself – one option as the professor saw it. He would resign his teaching position at the college, sell his home, and move closer to his wife. When this decision was shared with the administration of the college and his students, they urged him to reconsider. With love and compassion, the administration and students told the professor that his wife no longer knew who he was, that she has now forgotten him. Perhaps make the drive less often – maybe on the weekends. Stay, they all asked. Stay with us.
With equal love and compassion, the professor refused. “Yes, my wife no longer knows who I am. She has forgotten everything. But I know who I am. I am her husband. Thirty-five years ago I made a promise to her. I intend to keep that promise.” That day the professor did more than demonstrate the worth of a promise made and a promise kept. Most powerfully, the professor taught his greatest lesson of all – that a loss of memory does not make any of us less a person. As long as his wife had breath, she was a person of value, a person to be cherished. Those who can no longer remember our names or of stories shared in the journey of life continue to hold a special place in our hearts and mind.
Isaiah asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, fail to pity the child of her womb?” Tragically, answers Isaiah, “Yes, sometimes yes.” Yet, Isaiah quickly moves the conversation forward and adds these words, “Even these may forget, but I won’t forget you.” Isaiah announces to us that, in the end, what ensures our worth – our value – is not what we can remember or fail to remember. What ensures our personhood is that God remembers us. Often our memories are so much a part of who we are that we cannot imagine an identity without them. What the professor teaches us – and Isaiah affirms – is that we are more than our memories. When our memories fail us they are held on our behalf by those who love us.