We are, all of us, unreliable narrators of our own life’s story. The development of the human person takes twenty-five years to unfold. By this benchmark, the brain is fully developed, life-long patterns of behavior become fixed, and the ability to employ all five senses will never be more acute. However, studies show that the ability to learn new things is already in decline, especially language acquisition. Between infancy and five years old, the human child learns at an enormous rate. Anyone who has observed a toddler learn to walk will remember how fleeting was the moment when the walker stood up and the child could no longer be contained. Careening on two sturdy legs, the evolution of our species is telescoped into one afternoon. However, we do not remember our first steps. Photographs show us what it was like to take those first steps. But, memory does not become reliably established until the fourth or fifth year. Certain events may be imprinted on the growing brain but without language and contextualization, these proto- memories become conflated and enlarged or merely lost. Who knew that my bedroom was really quite small? I remember it now as large with a closet door that did not shut and open windows that gave me a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood. Did we go to the beach and play in the sand every summer day or was it just one, random, wonderful, sunny day which remains as a lasting image of early childhood? If the event or feeling was frightening or painful, the impact may alter a child’s personality development but we cannot say if or when or what took place. Photos or once beloved objects may remind us of our childhood but one cannot say with certainty that we remember.
Thus, I am not a reliable narrator of life as it happened during the time when my father was my father. The years from Fall 1945 to Winter 1953 are a mystery to me. Four or five moments stand out in my recollection. The rest is evidence gleaned from others. Knowing that I can never know what really happened is enormously frustrating to me, given that the members of my family were themselves unreliable reporters. Stories from that time were filtered through many conflicting sources. There is no one alive who can help me adequately reconstruct what has been lost. Yet there are dear hymns that speak to the time of childhood wonder, God’s time, which was, and is, and ever shall be.
A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone, short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun. Time like an ever-rolling stream bears all her sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day. Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be thou our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home.