Last memories, first impressions

July 3rd, 2014

My friend Omar taught me the power of last memories—and the necessity of choosing a good one.

Omar and I had fought many a battle together while serving in campus ministry in Arkansas. Both of us were leaving a mountain of frustrations behind us on the way to our new states.

But Omar told me that he was not going to let his last memory of Arkansas be one of futility or insult. Instead, he chose a dinner that several campus ministers had together, one that both closed out a training event and remembered one of our late colleagues.

“We laughed and talked and really cared about each other,” Omar said. “It was the closest thing to real community that I experienced in Arkansas. And that’s what I want to remember.”

This week, as I pack my boxes, I’m sifting through mental images, both memories and expectations. I’m thinking through the life I’m leaving behind and the life I’m getting ready to enter.

And I’m making choices. I don’t want my last memory of Arkansas or my first impressions of South Dakota to be colored by hurt feelings or stress. I don’t want either boundary of this transition to be handed to me simply because of chronological sequencing.

I want to decide the emotional landscape of those boundaries. I want to leave with the best of what I’ve been given. I want to arrive there with the most hopeful of hopes.

This strikes me as the same kind of maturity I encourage in my students when a healthy dating relationship ends. Celebrate what was good, I tell them. Let go of what was not, or it will drag you down and make you bitter. Choose what you will take with you from that relationship, and look forward to what’s ahead.

Easier said than done, now that I’m on the receiving end of this bit of wisdom. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and so far I’m failing a lot. But this work must be done nonetheless.

And so I’m trying on last memories of Arkansas State, football games and worship services and cookouts and people who feel genuine loss at our moving—people for whom we feel the same sense of loss. I don’t have the one single defining memory yet, and I may never have it. Perhaps it will be a collage.

The same may be true of my new home in Mitchell. I’ve already been greeted by people who genuinely welcome our arrival, I’ve met a few students and gotten messages from a few more. But what will it be like to actually drive into town? What will it feel like to come home after dropping off the moving truck? What will be the mental picture that endures?

I don’t know that answer yet. But I know that, before anything out of this flow of chaos begins to solidify as part of my story, I will be sifting through it for the memories and impressions I want to keep. The rest can wash downstream, and I will watch it go, knowing I am better off with only that which I’ve chosen to keep.

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