"John, I lost my memory this morning and I am terrified!" I remember sitting across from a friend, a member of my congregation, and for the first time in my life, found myself speechless.
He looked like he had been up all night and had been sleeping in a back alley because his hair was messy and I thought I could see some dried blood on his scalp and there was mud on his hands and clothes. I got up and poured him a cup of coffee from the pot our secretary always had brewing, put my hand on his shoulder, sat down quietly and just waited.
"About 9 this morning, I walked out of my office to drive to a meeting somewhere. I was a block or so from my car when the rain began to come down in sheets. Here I was, in my suit, no umbrella, feeling like an idiot, so I ran as fast as I could. Just as I reached my car, I slipped on some mud and fell. I guess I hit my head on the concrete, but I jumped up, got into my car and started the car.
I sat there for a couple of seconds and turned it off. I had no idea where I was going, where I was or who I was! I took my wallet out and looked at the driver's license and saw the picture and the name of a man I did not recognize. There were credit cards and plenty of money in the wallet, but that didn't help. I even thought about stopping a police car, but what if I was a crook and had stolen somebody's wallet and keys and about to take his car? John, there was a pay phone on the corner, so I opened the phone book, looked up the name on the driver's license, and read the address. I had no idea how to find the address and what the house looked like." He started crying and I found myself just sitting there with him, saying nothing, because there were no words to be said.
"I finally started thinking and figured that I must be in a strange town for a business appointment of some kind so why not drive around and see if anything is familiar. I guess I drove for an hour or so and then I began to remember. It was just as though I was waking up from a dream. I was only a couple of blocks away from the church, so here I am. I don't ever want this to happen again."
I wonder if this is what happens to people who lose their jobs, retire after a lifetime of service or work, divorce, experience some traumatic event that turns their lives upside down or find that all they counted on for identity has been taken away?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young theologian who lost his life in a Nazi prison, wrote, "Who am I? Am I only what I myself know of myself?" There was a time when he calmly accepted his imprisonment, spoke to the guards and had hope. Hope was soon replaced by thoughts of what used to be and his execution was eminent. But he ended his writing with this, "Whoever I am, Thou knowest 0 God, I am Thine!"
Perhaps the fear of the loss of identity is the true fear of death. Is death annihilation, cessation of memory, nothingness and the end of my existence?
I close with these thoughts that comfort me: I am all that I have lived, loved, experienced and shared in these years given to me. I cherish every moment. Here are the words that sustain me: Our Lord Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also. There will come that moment in time when you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you!"
The fear is gone. The anxiety is passed. I understand. I know who I am.