It may be William Faulkner's best quote. It shows up in his Requiem for a Nun: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." What Faulkner meant, I think, is that the past never completely goes away. Instead, the past powerfully shapes even today and tomorrow. The past doesn't simply disappear; in fact, it affects us so deeply that we can never completely escape it.
It also means that we would be wise to look to the past to make sense of today and tomorrow.
For some reason, I've been thinking a lot these days about the past, specifically about my past. I've been thinking about how important it is to remember that past.
When I was younger, this time of year was my favorite season for one reason: the beginning of baseball. I suspect that I'm thinking about that this year . . . because, at least right now, there is no baseball.
When I was a kid, I loved the St. Louis Cardinals. In those days televised baseball games were fairly rare, but it was possible to listen to every game on the radio. I especially loved it when the Cardinals played on the West Coast, because those games would start at 11:00 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone. Living in Louisville, I would tune my radio to 50,000-watt KMOX, the Cardinal flagship station in St. Louis, climb into bed, and listen to the games. (My parents, of course, thought that I was sleeping.) But I would hang on Jack Buck's every word and thrill at the best game ever invented, played by the team I loved so dearly.
This week, I stumbled on a stack of old baseball score books. Often, when I was a kid, I would keep an official score book as I listened to a game. There's a system of keeping score in baseball that rivals Egyptian hieroglyphics -- symbols and marks for every single thing that happens in a game. And if you do a good job recording the details of a game in a score book, you can go back (even years later) and essentially reconstruct the game. Using that one piece of paper covered with all those strange markings, the game can become real right before your eyes.
So here I am in March of 2020 looking at the score card for a baseball game that was played 48 years ago. And if I use just a bit of imagination, I can relive the entire game.
The date was April 19, 1972. St. Louis was playing the Phillies in Philadelphia.
The pitchers that day were two future hall-of-famers: Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson.
To this day, I can envision the faces of some of the players:
Lou Brock, Larry Bowa, Ted Simmons, Matty Alou, Greg Luzinski, Tim McCarver. Unbelievably, the game was played in one hour, thirty-two minutes!
Even though Bob Gibson gave up only one run,
Steve Carlton pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout
(facing only twenty-nine batters) and the Phillies won, 1-0.
Now, I don't remember that game. There is very little chance that I could remember a specific game that happened that long ago. Looking at my score book, though, every detail comes alive in my mind. And even though that game was played 48 years ago, it seems as real today as it was in 1972.
Without my score book I would have only a vague feeling about loving baseball as a kid. With the score book in hand, however, that vague feeling becomes real and concrete and alive. My score book tells me with certainty that the Cardinals and the Phillies really did play a game that day in 1972.
And that makes me realize not just that the past is important -- but that it is important to remember the past -- which is sometimes very hard to do. In fact, I'm not sure that we can do a good job remembering the past without some help.
Thankfully, we have plenty of help! When it comes to my relationship with God, I have some tools that help me remember the past.
For example, when I read my journals from the past, I can trace God's activity in my life over the years. My journals help me remember.
When I read books about God's people through history, I encounter the very real things that God has done in the lives of others. Those books help me remember.
When I open my Bible and see the names and places and events that fill the pages of Scripture, I am reminded of who God is and I am reminded of what God has done. The Bible helps me remember.
My memory isn't all that good these days. So I am grateful that I have some things to hold in my hands and look at . . . some things that will help me remember.
And that is so very important . . . because remembering the past helps me figure out how to live today.