For the last five years, my wife and I became parents and began raising three children in my hometown. A simple drive to the grocery store was a (sometimes forced) opportunity to reopen a memory. Five years of opening drawers gave me new eyes for the past, with a little more compassion for myself and others. It was always the stoplights that got me thinking – history and the moment pulling to the line, idling and parting ways.
A few months ago, we left home. Now I am remembering different things.
Like the daily drive to the nursing home in grade school. Rooms filled with the fullness and lack of a lifetime, echoes of homes built with other hopes. The short, but routine visits – a firm smile, a fragile hug. The feel of waxen skin.
And the smell of hospice at All Saints mixed with the buttery popcorn in the lobby. The crowded family waiting room, another room pretending to be anywhere but there. The feel of holding warm bread in my lap on the drive to hospice, my mom delivering homemade food to bring a sense of normalcy in a world of confusion.
Or the back half of high school – those last two years where we packed and unpacked the ever-diminishing suitcases of my grandfather’s belongings into the half-dozen medicare homes before his death to pancreatic cancer. The call from that same hospice floor while my dad and I were out running errands. “Get here, quickly.”
Sitting with my 7th grade Sunday school teacher shortly before cancer took him. Corned beef and rye over lunch, and how his body leaned heavily upon the cane with each step back to the car.
The feeling of these rooms, the memories of presence and loss.
I’ve been sitting with these thoughts trying to figure out why I think it’s important to remember – to do the work of trying to actually interpret what we observe in life. My interpretation at 12 has impacted who I am at 35, and my lenses for life will progressively change with each decade.
God knows I am a bad interpreter of my own experience, and how fast I move to avoid remembering things that were confusing, brought pain, or I didn’t know what to do with. But who I am is undeniably affected by what I have experienced and how I interpret it. We are, to a great extent, our memories. They shape the story we believe about who we are and where we are going at the next stoplight.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit our observations, inviting Jesus into those moments of loss, of grief, of geography, community, and need.
I don’t want another moment of loss to be marked by a desire to escape discomfort – but to live aware of God’s presence in that moment, aware of his work beyond my interpretation.
Reality is too heavy to close the drawer on. It will sit until geography forces it open, one way or another.
Eugene Peterson, whose work has shaped me greatly, went into Joy yesterday. Last week I reread a poem by Hopkins that Peterson often quoted, which for the twelfth reading and the first time hit home:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Remember. Be present.
Recognize God is already present.
Look for how Christ plays in the memories and moments of your life.
Let them form you, and do what you came for.