Redux #2: Beauty of True Riches

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The only things that can never be taken

from you are your memories.

Create beautiful memories; they are your true riches.

Dr. Marvin E. Patterson

Shortly after posting the above quote last week, two friends responded by reminding me that our memories can be taken away from us too. This is Part Two of my response. 

If you live in a country where English is the first language, you no doubt have heard the hundred year old hymn, “The Love of God.” The story of how it was written sheds light on our dilemma of whether or not memories can be kept a lifetime even when someone appears to have lost the capability of thinking and remembering.

In the eighteenth century, a certain man was considered so hopelessly insane that he existed for years locked in a tiny cell where he could do no harm to himself or to others. Food and necessities were provided, but he was considered incapable of rational thought or conversation. After his death, as the attendants were preparing his cell for a new occupant, they found the following poem scratched into the wall.

     Were the sky of parchment made,

     A quill each reed, each twig and blade,

     Could we with ink the oceans fill,

     Were every man a scribe of skill,

     The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory

     Would still remain untold; For He, most high

     The earth and sky Created alone of old.

At first, everyone presumed the poor man had composed it himself in occasional moments of lucidity.  News about the discovery spread as the public wondered how a deranged man unable to communicate with others could achieve such lyrical grace with words.

As the story passed from person to person, town to town, and country to country,  someone finally discovered that actually it had been written in the eleventh century by a cantor for the Synagogue in Worms, Germany, Meir Ben Issac Nehorai. These lines were  part of a hymn used during the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.

So the insane man knew the old poem and could remember it even though he didn’t appear to be able to even think. Not only could he remember, it comforted him or he would not have written it on the wall in his cell.

* * *

To finish the story of the hymn, in 1917, Frederick M. Layman, an American living in California, was impressed by the story of the poem above. In fact, he was so impressed, he  adjusted the translated words to fit the meter of a hymn he, himself had started, but couldn’t seem to finish. His reworked translation of the Jewish poem became the third stanza:

     Could we with ink the ocean fill,

        And were the skies of parchment made;

     Were every stalk on earth a quill,

        And every man a scribe by trade;

     To write the love of God above

        Would drain the ocean dry;

     Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

        Though stretched from sky to sky.

No one ever really knows what is going on inside another person, what they’re thinking, or what they remember. One can judge by facial expression, body language, or words, but still not know even if another person is  telling the truth or not. Family members of patients who are in a comatose state are now warned to speak encouraging words when around the patient because he may be aware, although unresponsive. Patients coming out of anesthesia after surgery sometimes hear what is being said by others, even though they are still unable to speak. Even when a person appears to not understand, respond, or remember, there still is that inner being that appreciates and recollects.

Wise and happy people strive to make beautiful memories realizing that they really are true riches.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

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