Living the Questions: November 2014

Theme for November
Memory: The Practice of Keeping Time

Questions for contemplation and conversation on your own,
around the dinner table, in your journal, with each other

Download 11-2014-questions


  • What memories do you hold in gratitude and love?
  • How do you balance both nourishing and challenging memories?
  • How have challenges with memory or cognition played a part of your own or a loved one’s life?
  • In what ways do you celebrate, or challenge, the narratives of our wider culture?
  • How do you keep time in your own life by marking occasions, celebrating traditions,
    or telling the story of your people?


“So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.”
—Helen Keller


“It is right to remember the names of those who gave us strength in this choice of living. It is right to name the power of hard lives well-lived…They are with us still. The lives they lived hold us steady…We, the living, carry them with us; we are their voices, their hands and their hearts. We take them with us, and with them choose the deeper path of life.”
—Kathleen McTigue, #721 in Singing the Living Tradition


“A ritual takes what happened a long time ago and drags it into the present so you can experience it here and now. Rituals keep us from forgetting what must not be forgotten and keep us rooted in a past from which we must not be disconnected.”
—Tony Campolo



Long ago, I settled on this piece of mind,
clearing a spot for memory, making a
road so that the future could come and go,
building a house of possibility.
I came across the prairie with only
my wagonload of words, fragile stories
packed in sawdust. I had to learn how
to press a thought like seed into the ground;
I had to learn to speak with a hammer,
how to hit the nail straight on. When
I took up the reins behind the plow,
I felt the land, threading through me,
stitching me into place.
—Joyce Sutphen

Memory As a Hearing Aid
Somewhere, someone is asking a question,
and I stand squinting at the classroom
with one hand cupped behind my ear,
trying to figure out where that voice is coming from.
I might be already an old man,
attempting to recall the night
his hearing got misplaced,
front-row-center at a battle of the bands,

where a lot of leather-clad, second-rate musicians,
amped up to dinosaur proportions,
test drove their equipment through our ears.
Each time the drummer threw a tantrum,
the guitarist whirled and sprayed us with machine-gun riffs,
as if they wished that they could knock us
quite literally dead.
We called that fun in 1970,
when we weren’t sure our lives were worth surviving.
I’m here to tell you that they were,
and many of us did, despite ourselves,
though the road from there to here

is paved with dead brain cells,
parents shocked to silence,
and squad cars painting the whole neighborhood
the quaking tint and texture of red jelly.
Friends, we should have postmarks on our foreheads
to show where we have been;
we should have pointed ears, or polka-dotted skin
to show what we were thinking
when we hot-rodded over God’s front lawn,
and Death kept blinking.
But here I stand, an average-looking man
staring at a room

where someone blond in braids
with a beautiful belief in answers
is still asking questions.
Through the silence in my dead ear,
I can almost hear the future whisper
to the past: it says that this is not a test
and everybody passes.
—Tony Hoagland


In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.
Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children.
It is not the place of some official to hand to them their heritage…
…If others impart to our children our knowledge
and ideals, they will lose all of us that is
wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children,
lest they drag out joyless lives,
lest they allow treasures to be lost because
they have not been given the keys.
We live, not by things, but by the meanings
of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords
from generation to generation.
—Antoine De St.-Exupery, #649 in Singing the Living Tradition

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
—Billy Collins