The Past Makes Us Human (or, The Best Blogs & Books of 2017)

The past makes us human.

Every winter, our dog bounds around in the first snowfall of the year as if it’s his first time. There’s a good reason for that. For him, it likely feels like the first time. He probably can’t remember last year’s snowfall.

I write a lot about being present—about being mindful of this moment—and there are all sorts of joyful gifts in that. Just ask any dog. However, our ability to remember, to venture into the past, is one of the things that makes us distinctly human. And memory is a gift, no matter how many strings—like regret, guilt, grief, and sorrow, to name a few—might be attached to it.

What is the gift of remembering?

best books of 2017

Photo Credit: sidarta (Bigstock)

The gift of remembering is that moment at the age of nine when, after a twelve-hour car trip on the eve of Christmas, you pulled into your hometown, big, thick snowflakes falling from the sky like a blanket, covering the ground, muffling the world, while your grandparents waited for you on the front porch, backlit by the warm light of a home you’ve longed to return to.

The gift of remembering is, for instance, being able to take the feeling of homecoming with you wherever you go.

The gift of remembering is that Sunday night in third grade when you were looking out the window into the gathering dusk, with snowflakes racing past the glow of streetlights that have just come on, hoping deep in your bones for a snow day on Monday, a radio playing far off in another room of the house, and then your mother’s voice, calling for you, announcing that indeed school has been cancelled for the following day.

The gift of remembering is, for instance, moments so joyful they will never go away again, until someday far in the future, when your mind goes away from them.

The gift of remembering is that time you flew farther and faster on that new sled than you ever thought was possible, and tackling your cousins into a pile of snow after Thanksgiving dinner, and a snowball fight at your fourteenth birthday party, and the frosty windows in the old school bus on the night you made the game-winning shot, and long lonely snow-covered roads with Bon Iver coming through the car speakers, and kids shedding snow pants like snake skin and gathering around for hot cocoa, and being able to bound around in the snow as if it is the first time and the last time and every time.

The gift of remembering is, for instance, every moment that grace has ever touched you, folded into this moment.

I think that is why, at the end of every year, we human beings take a moment or two to pause and remember. We make our top ten lists for the year and reflect on music and movies and books and art and every other lovely thing. We do the human thing, and we remember, and we invite 365 days-worth of grace to visit us in this one moment.

As always, this year with you has been grace. And, as always, I want to pause for a moment to remember it. Here are the top ten UnTangled posts of 2017 (based upon page views). And here are the top ten books I read this year (they are in no particular order; they are all too good to rank).

Grace and hope to you, friend. May the grace we remember from this past year be the grace through which we look forward to this coming year.

Best UnTangled Posts of 2017

  1. This Is What Therapy Cannot Do for You (Says the Therapist)
  2. Dear Daughter, You Don’t Need to Act Like a Man to Become a Strong Woman
  3. What Anxiety Steals from Us (and How to Steal It Back)
  4. What I Will Miss When They’re Gone
  5. What No One Ever Told You About How to Live a Loveable Life
  6. When Life Gives You Lemons, Pay Closer Attention to the Lemons
  7. The Art of Being Alive in a Broken World
  8. Dear Little One, Release Your Shame (A Letter from a Father to a Child)
  9. This Is the Truth About a Post-Truth World (Maybe)
  10. The 3 Reasons You Should Not Try to Make Anyone Happy

Best Books I Read in 2017

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Love, Henri by Henri Nouwen
  • A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  • Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
  • The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
  • The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu
  • Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
  • The Remarkable Ordinary by Frederick Buechner
  • New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

Best Book I Published in 2017 (Ha!)

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Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ginny

    I would put Loveable on my Top Ten List of Books for 2017. Thank you!

  • Cathie

    So,so good, as always, my friend….I was just writing about memory/memories.remembering, in my gratitude journal this morning! And, what a coincidence! My favorite book of 2017 just so happens to be one in the same as your best book published in 2017!! Blessings!

    • Thank you for that, Cathie, and lovely to hear that we were in sync this week!

  • jodi jantomaso

    My top 3 books this year were (in order)
    #1. “Loveable” by YOU… and the podcasts, (big grateful smile),
    #2. Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller,
    #3. I read this one with my (social media addicted) 19 year old by Brene Brown called “I though it was just me, but it isn’t- Making the journey from “what will people think” to “I am enough”. Report: My daughter has a new and good perspective on what social media has (not ) done for her…and she’s doing great.
    All excellent reads with plans of action for implementing positive life change. Thank you Kelley for this year of guidance and grace. Many blessings to you and your family!

    • Thank you, Jodi! I haven’t gone back to that older Brene Brown book yet, but this is just the encouragement I needed to do so, so thanks for that, too!

  • Cris M

    Dear Kelly,
    Thank you for the post; memory is such a funny thing for me. But even the memory of the short term is helpful, and we go over the things we can remember from the year that is getting to an end, we can realize that as much as we have the 1000 sorrows, we equally have the 1000 joys, as the Buddha said.
    Interestingly, books bring me joy, always. I can “remember” books have always been a refuge for me…
    As for my list, I loved reading your book. It is always a joy to read a book written by a friend. Thank you!
    I also read the book of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, those 2 are the most entitled ones to write a boot about joy! I also read “Along the way”, a memoir written by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. It was great to read about a father&son relationship. And I was deeply touched by a book called “In the Shelter…” by Padraig O’Tuama. I listened to him talking to Krista Tippett, and I bought the book.
    Thank you! Just as I am writing this comment, a smile is coming to my face!
    Warm hugs. I promise to follow up with more.
    Cris M

    • “Along the Way” and “In the Shelter,” both by men I really respect, thanks for the recommendations, Cris!