Last Christmas, my older sister and I decorated my mom’s apartment. My sister made a bash out of it with wine and Christmas music and huge crates of baubles and ribbons. The next day, my brother told me that he’d asked my mom if I was there. “Nope,” she said. Just my sister. I joked, “Well, I guess we know who her favorite is.” It’s strange to make memories that you alone carry, to have holiday celebrations, birthday parties and vacations that will be immediately forgotten. Yet my mom enjoyed herself. She didn’t want our time together to end.

We as human beings cannot ever truly possess, to steal a phrase from one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, a “net for catching days.” Not a reliable one, anyway. The nets of memory are all riddled with holes, and most of our days will pass right through them. But though they won’t be caught, those days will still be lived. They still matter. What my mom reminds me of amid all her forgotten moments is that the only moment we can catch is the one we are in right now. But this moment, however grievous or joyful or ordinary, comes with an invitation to notice it. This very second is a gift to be received, a blessing offered in love that we did not earn and cannot cling to.

In his book on dementia, the Scottish pastor and theologian John Swinton wrote that we as a culture have a bias toward what he called “cortextualism”— a bias toward fusing our understanding of personhood with higher-order thinking and reasoning that leads us to depreciate the humanity of those not capable of typical cognition, including dementia patients.

But dementia cannot erase our inherent dignity or value. It does not erase the image of God in us. Cortextualism fails to see the intrinsic glory and beauty in each human life. It also strikes me as profoundly arrogant and self-deceived, rooted in the notion that with enough privilege, health and power, we can make ourselves strong; we can white-knuckle our way to the good life. But all of us, and every one of our strengths, are made of flimsy material.

Many of the biblical writers seem to understand that humans are innately forgetful creatures, so they constantly call us back to the hard work of recollection. In Deuteronomy, Moses urges his people, “Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai,” and later says, “Be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.”

Even now, believers gather to worship and collectively remember the stories we live by. Each Sunday in my church, when I take the Eucharist, the priest repeats Jesus’ words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Yet each week, through confession, we acknowledge that all of us, in the words of Isaiah, “have forgotten the God” of our salvation.