Special to 0-A News from Walter Albritton
For Sunday, May 28, 2000

Graduates advised to treasure their memories of the bitter and the sweet

(Editorís note: This advice to graduates was first published in the Opelika-Auburn News on May 30, 1999. It remains helpful and pertinent today.)

Dorothy Parker once quipped: "Women and elephants never forget." I am not sure about elephants but I do know that my wife has a remarkable memory. She never ceases to amaze me with her ability to recall facts about people we have known and places we have been.

She can remember the color of a favorite dress when she was two or three years old, or describe vividly a fight between a cat and a dog when she was a little girl. Friends and neighbors who lived on her street when she was small are easily remembered.

That we human beings have the gift of memory is a wonderful thing. Memories add both joy and sadness to our days and help us find meaning for the varied experiences of our lives. To wake up one day with amnesia would be a dreadful occurrence. The longer we live, the more enjoyable it is to remember the house where we were born, the scene outside the window of our bedroom, and the pets we loved as we grew up.

One special memory which my wife and I share together is recalling our school teachers. We met in the first grade, went to school together, and our teachers were very special people to us. We talk often about how important our teachers were in shaping our lives.

Some things I do remember well. I remember watching men roll their own cigarettes. Some fellows were good at it. They would peel off a piece of paper from a book of cigarette paper, thump a line of Prince Albert tobacco from a red can, lick the edge of the paper, and gently roll it between their fingers. The result was a fine "home made" cigarette. The spit from the man's tongue was the glue that held the cigarette together.

I remember gathering in our kitchen when I was a boy, while my Dad tried to let us listen to a Joe Louis fight on the radio. There was so much static that we heard very little, but still it was a big event for our family to listen as the Brown Bomber knocked out another opponent. None of us ever dreamed of such a thing as television back then.

I remember the time my first cousin, Buck, died in a truck accident. He was only 13, and it was my introduction to death. I still remember how Buck's death was almost more than my Uncle Seth and Aunt Kathleen could stand. I was a little older than Buck and we spent many happy hours playing together when our families shared a meal.

Looking back, each of us must admit that some days and events were happy and others very sad. That is the nature of life, for it is a mixture of good and evil, fortune and misfortune. We may not be able to forget all the bad days but we can decide which set of memories will dominate our thinking.

We can refuse to let our dreadful memories hoist the highest flag in our minds. We can choose to favor our joyful memories and, with grateful hearts, celebrate the good days rather than the bad. We can give thanks for the lessons taught us by adversity and rejoice that we can cling to joy in the midst of pain, even if sometimes we are holding on by only our fingernails.

If we are wise, we will say to life and its Creator, "Thanks for the memories," for without them, life would be unbearable. We can approach each new day with the resolve not to spend all our energy making money, but to make memories that can add to the sweetness of our journey. At the end, that can tip the scales in favor of joy.

The graduates we honor in this season may want to stop for a moment and look backward for a moment before they move forward. If they will, they can learn a thing or two about making memories from those of us who are near the end of the journey they are just beginning.