I have fond and powerful memories of my maternal grandmother.  She is still living, now over 80 years of age, spending most days in front of a television in the commons at the nursing home in the small Ontario farm town that has always been her home.

I remember picking peas with her in a garden that seemed to be bigger than a football field.  I remember the rhubarb patch outside her farmhouse where she would get the materials for pies my father loved.  I remember her Christmas pudding, chocolate pies, and corn.  It was just regular corn but even my own sons have grown up calling her “Great-Grandma-who-makes-the-best-corn.”  It really is a title like that.  I remember how she made quilts with ladies from churches and afghans at home as she watched Hee-Haw on Friday nights when we would arrive from the city.  I remember the Christmas she gave all twenty-four of us grandchildren afghans to take with us into our marriages (even the twelve-year olds) because she was sure she was going to die very soon.  That was fifteen years ago.  I remember how each of us grandchildren would always get a bag of gifts at Christmas, always the same gifts: socks, toothpaste, deodorant, and a box of Cadbury’s chocolate candies — all wrapped by Grandma herself.  I remember how up to only a year ago she always insisted I bend my 6’5″ frame down to her height at less than 5’0″ for a full kiss on the lips (not one of my favorite memories!).  I remember taking my grandmother out for a drive a few years ago and how we went to the cemetery so she could water the flowers she kept growing around my grandfather’s grave stone.  These wonderful memories contribute to the varied tapestry of my identity.

Where would we be without our memories?

My grandmother began to lose her independence about three years ago.  Like many, she didn’t accept this easily.  But the nursing home — a good one — was inevitable.  About two years ago my mother would talk about how Grandma’s memory was slipping.  We sent pictures for recognition sake, and Mom would keep Grandma updated on my family.  We are usually only able to visit Canada once or twice a year, so I expected she would not know who we were anymore.  But for the next two or three visits she did.  She would mention my sons’ names.  She could connect me to my mother.  She remembered details of our history.  She would comment on the fulness of my beard, which really had more to do with the increasing pudginess of the cheeks under my beard.

Then last October, my last visit home, Grandma had no idea who I was.  Mentally, she has deteriorated considerably.  She used to talk about “those people” who would sit down in the commons staring at the television all day, now she does the same.  She is still very pleasant, and not all who suffer from dementia are.  What breaks my heart is the emotion that seemed to grip her the most as we sat in an empty dining room trying to make chit-chat and keep alive the bonds of relationship.  She seemed terrified.  I can only wonder what must have been going through her mind.  Who is this man?  Why are we alone in this dining room?  What is he referring to?  I hurt, not for what I have lost.  I still have those same memories, and her ailments cannot take those away.  I hurt for her, and what she has lost.

Who do we become without our memories?

As I count it, the word “remember” is used eight times in this twenty-one verse section of the second surah.  Allah speaks directly to the Jewish “children of Israel” reminding them of their chosen position, rescue from Egypt, guidance through the Law, provision in the Desert, and protection in Conquest.  We need to recall that Muslims claim Allah is the same God of the Jews and Christians.  The history of the Bible (at least the big events) is assumed in the Qur’an.  After all God has done for the Jews  in the past, will they truly ignore Him now when He speaks to them once again through the Qur’an (2:41)?

As the Qur’an describes it, the key is whether the Jews will “remember.”  If they will not, they will lose their identity.  Fear will engulf them.  Uprooted from the past, they will be unable to trust.

What is it that makes you who you are?  Where have you been?  What has God done to bring you this far?  That we must remember.