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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Persistence of Memory



Are you one who escapes into your thoughts or into a daydream when life gets very hard? When you feel overwhelmed? Grieved? Do you have a “safe” place, a memory, something that tugs at your heart with that longing that C.S. Lewis gave the name of “Joy”?

And if you are one of those, as I am, do the thoughts, the memories, the visions, and the longings catch you buy surprise sometimes?

I was driving on the interstate late yesterday afternoon. The busiest traffic time of day. The zipping in and out, starting, stopping, bigger vehicles bearing down, entering, exiting felt a lot like the chaos of that day.

I was leaving one event for another. (The whole day was like that.) I had just left one child who had suffered a deep (for her stage of life) disappointment and even mild physical injury. I was going to a place where I would meet up with another child, who had been away from me the entire, very long day, and she would wait another hour at least before I would be free to deliver her back home. Yet another is in transition, and the confirmation for that came yesterday, the details kick in today.

Several individuals yesterday met me with grace and kindness. One in particular shines into my life like a ray of light handed directly from the Father’s hand whenever I cross paths with her. Even before running into her yesterday, God had pricked my heart to think of her constant kindness and optimism toward others. I had already given thanks for her, then he put her into my path, so that I could give thanks to her as well. Yet another person had showed kindness, but revealed a misunderstanding about me that I am powerless to clear up. It is difficult to change the perceptions of people who don’t really know your heart, and reflect only their own into and back out of you. It’s difficult to change that—even if we are called to do so, and I’m not sure I am called to try. Might that be seeking revenge, in a way?

I have, of late, come to think that, even as a non-violent person, I am not off the hook from the Romans 12: 19—Beloved, never avenge yourselves. Jesus was labeled and misunderstood, and he didn’t speak back. He didn’t have to. In a way, I think my deep desire to set records straight and make others see my perspective, when they are not my close beloved, is a sort of revenge, isn’t it? It’s the same idea: You harm me by misunderstanding and misrepresenting me, therefore I must change you and your thinking. You must see me my way.   

You hear it, don’t you? Verbal, mental, intellectual vengeance.     I do.    God, have mercy on me, a sinner.    

Understanding one another comes in relationship. Without relationship—loving, tender, truth-seeking, committed relationship—one may not be able to press to be understood without it becoming a type of self-justifying vengeance. And so, I battled with myself in my thoughts on the way home. How to be loving in that situation? How to not assume the worst about the one who assumed about me, but how to open my mind and heart to consider that there’s some trauma that person has been shaped by which makes “the worst” in others the first option to assign? How to give something to drink to the thirsty, if the situation arises? And then the children: How to ease this one’s disappointment when she is already so hard on herself? How to affirm this one’s transition in a way that is all positive? How to keep relationship with one who is so on-the-go she’s rarely even with us anymore?

And then that place, that safe place, hit me. It was so tactile. I was on the verge of completely being washed overboard with the swirling thoughts, and my mind just flipped to that memory.

I was looking down at my own childhood feet. I was barefoot and bare legged. Skinny, bare feet, pink nails showing through the dusty-gray from the powdery, super-soft, sandy soil of the South Carolina midlands. And there was a rhythm. Step, step, step, kick. Step, step, step, kick. I was moving, not gently, but almost soaring, back and forth, back and forth.

And there was a scent. That soft, talc scent. From the round box with the huge powder puff. And the sound, a happy, joy-filled if sometimes off key and sometimes even shrill, singing.

I was in my Grandmama’s swing, under the mock orange trees, and she was there. Soft and loud and joyous.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in that swing. I could walk or run from my own house to hers, past the maple tree now almost consumed by mistletoe, around the tight curve through the pecan grove where we some years gathered enough nuts for us kids to fund our own Christmas shopping, past the always-threatening-to-fall-down barn, the parked John Deere left alone so long a tree had sprouted between the frame and tires, under the zip line, and to the swing beneath the mock oranges. If the weather was nice, she always found time to swing. To sit and talk and swing and sing.

And I was safe there. Safe and happy and carefree. I know her life wasn’t easy. She lived through a lot. Lost siblings to death in childhood. A deadly influenza epidemic. The Depression. Wars that took or utterly changed loved ones. She never had much, materially, but enough. Widowed almost two decades. She worked and kept a clean and tidy house and her groceries stocked and her friends fed. Every day had Bible and devotion time, all that work, and still, somehow, time to visit. Time to share herself. Time to let me in.

How is it that when life was carefree enough to drop in on her at any time I had free, I didn’t need it then? But now, probably 35 years later, in the chaos, it’s that place, by her side, in her life’s rhythm, that calls to me as my safe place in the world?

But it’s gone. She’s gone. The swing is gone. The mock oranges are gone. 

The child is gone.

O lost! And by the wind grieved. Ghost!

We’re promised a time to come when every man sits in the shade of his own fig tree. I wonder if I can request a mock orange. And a swing. I wonder if she has one already.

Step, step, step, kick!

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