• Aarik Danielsen

Forget-Me-Nots

Pastors and writers of a certain temperament recite Nikolaus Zinzendorf’s creed: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” I call many of them friends and personal teachers.


The proverb, as brief and profound as a life itself, arrives with resonance. Especially on any given 21st-century day, as we watch preachers and Christian celebrities slip off ladders they built for themselves. Not exactly “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” but close enough; Zinzendorf’s disciples quietly beckon us to—like the boy Jesus—be about our father’s business, then return to the God who made us.


 
I want to embody the gospel. And certainly, death awaits. But somehow I can’t make peace with being forgotten.
 

But this humble catechism lands awkwardly. I hear it, alarms ringing from within because I harbor an ever-present fear of being forgotten.


My anxiety stretches across situations. I worry about slipping between dinner-party conversations, sliding all the way under the table;


becoming the social-media cohort whose touch is lost—and never missed—after a friend deletes their apps;


forever being the cheerleader who wades past posted signs, slowly drowning in everyone else’s good news;


finding that my permanence, in a city or at a job, paradoxically changes me into a ghost.


I want to embody the gospel. And certainly, death awaits. But somehow I can’t make peace with being forgotten.


A few months ago, I woke in a low-grade midnight panic, picturing a library’s stacks before me. Anonymous hands brushed the spines, tracing the last names of titles and authors. Their fingers never found my book, my name.


At 41, I haven’t written a book for the same reason I don’t have a tattoo. I want both, but have yet to find my one idea worth scrawling in permanent ink. Knowing the reason for my reluctance, fear still compounds. What if my name never graces a title page? Can I live without living past myself—even if time would only grant my words a home in some library’s dimmest corner?


My sentences might die along with the memories of my readers, disappearing as domain names expire. I don’t know what this says about me, what I spent myself on, if it mattered.


Everything I carry from my upbringing shakes its head at me in these moments, affirming Zinzendorf. Most handmade legacies depreciate the minute you drive them off the lot. The gospel, in all its glory, outlives whatever relevance our flesh acquires. I know this yet fear and desire remain, persistent little bastards.


Why we want to be remembered matters as much as how. If we grasp for greatness, ever shifting its shape and shedding its skin, we perform a fool’s errand. Trying to stave off death sucks whatever life we have left. But if we resist being forgotten in the name of connection; because we long to be embedded in the fabric of every life we encounter; for the sake of flowing like a current between the divine and the daily—perhaps some good news remains.

My hope for being remembered rests upon a series of observations about art and its effects. The ways, once absorbed and experienced, a sight or sound never ceases making us come alive.


I walk around the world differently, more aware and grateful, for hearing songs like Dawes’ “A Little Bit of Everything” and Bon Iver’s “Calgary.” They hum inside me, even when I go months without turning them on or turning them up. These songs are never forgotten, sticking to my soul even when they aren’t consciously remembered.


A phrase from the poet Arthur Sze—“staccato lightning to the west”—still lifts my chin, scouring the heavens for signs of a storm even after reading it a year ago, even though I rarely remember exactly how just five words go.


In the same way, the first pages of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” keep me praying to light bulbs, beseeching them for warmth and consolation. Just like an Ansel Adams photograph taught me to care for people in houses blurring past the highway, to wonder about their unknowable stories, letting them touch something inside me in a literal blink.


These artifacts keep me going at instances when my own numb nerve endings and dead skin threatened to undo me. They move me from one instance to the next, soaking my heart in just enough wine to keep it tender. I not only carry their lyrics and lessons with me, but a secret sort of knowledge. Silent instructions on feeling my way through this world.


Even if my crowded brain someday loses my grip on beloved melodies or sentence-level sermons, their particular beauty lives in me. Crying out just loud enough to register, contributing to each moment I have breath.


 
Maybe something ingrained, some holy impulse, drives the desire to be remembered.
 

Maybe something ingrained, some holy impulse, drives the desire to be remembered. A friend recently drew my attention to the strange, exquisite behavior of poet Mary Ruefle. According to an Instagram post from peer Mark Wunderlich, Ruefle stows a “decomposing book in her yard to remind herself of the fate of all literature, and how we write anyway because we must.”


Do the work without worrying if it will last, Ruefle encourages us, inching up to the garden of Eden without breaching its green border. We were made for communion with the earth and each other; never to vanish or decay but to play some small part in creation’s perpetual motion. Now our pages tear and blur, even as the impulse to create fights back against the weathering.


 
Maybe our desire to be remembered, in its purest form, represents honesty about the true nature of living, not the selfishness so many of us were taught to root out.
 

Maybe all we really want is to recover this eternal connection, between what beats inside and lives beyond us. Maybe our desire to be remembered, in its purest form, represents honesty about the true nature of living, not the selfishness so many of us were taught to root out.


Will you and I be lost to history? Most likely. Forgotten by the fabric of this world? Not a chance. The urge to linger does not betray us. Our hope of echoing through another person’s life—to be remembered even in the silent things—is a deposit on a world where we will be bound together forever.


So I write sentences, praying they make you feel like The War on Drugs sounds in my ears; that they pull light from darkest night like Lynn Saville’s photographs; keep you seeking sincerity everywhere, just as I do after internalizing the oddball earnestness of David Lynch. And you do whatever it is you do. Then we offer up our lives like bouquets of forget-me-nots, the quiet promise of something endless.




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