We seem to jump from one Big Major Life Transition to another around here. It’s always something.
Here lately, it’s two major moves; the first, of our family business to a larger, more visible location. We’re excited to put the music store in a better position to be a solid, long-term part of the community. It’s been all my dear husband has thought about for months, and at this point it’s been the reason he’s crawling into bed at 4AM. The man knows how to git ‘er done, and at this stage of the game, it’s whatever it takes. The doors will Monday, although it will be a while before everything is rolled into place. Designing and building lesson rooms, rewiring, adding insulation, painting, carpeting, putting up trim and taping and bedding and everything else you might think of; he’s doing it.
Motion in other places, too; the renting of my old house to a new family. For a few years, good friends have lived there. The arrangements were comfortable, by which I mean I had left Some Stuff over there in the attic and the storage shed. With “real” renters moving in, it was time to purge and clean and sort and move The Stuff. I’ve spent hours in the attic, sorting through the things.
And I had a blog post in my head, because thing is our prompt, and I wanted to write about a certain thing, but that desire was preempted by this exposure to All The Things in the attic.
Last week at church, we heard a powerful and extremely relevant message about living in the present, in a way not distorted by alarms on iPhones. I found myself very thoughtful, considering carefully whether or not the way in which I spend my hours truly honored the life I’ve been given. It was a great message for the beginning of January, a normal time to look ahead and think toward the future.
But then I went in the attic, and all that went out the window with the dust and broken chair arms.
There were photos; some from 35 years ago and some just a decade old. Me, here and there. Me, with Sarah as a baby. Me, as a freshman in high school. My five kids, in a ridiculous pose across a butt-ugly couch. Me and my kids’ dad, in a very stereotypical church directory pose, with big Texas hair and big glasses and one smiling baby.
I’d started the week contemplating the future – excited, even. Planning ahead. Ready to embrace and be in the moment. But then I went soaring down the dusty road of recollection and remembrances, of yearbooks and scrapbooks and photos stuck between the pages of books. Upon the January pinnacle of looking forward, I plunged backwards into the annals of time gone by.
And an amazing thing happened.
See, I think there’s more to the “be in the moment” message than meets the eye. I wouldn’t have told you this before coming face to face with a shy, skinny, smiling girl centered in a linear line of masculinity (the only girl cousin, that was me), but I am convinced there is some slight danger this ever-present charge to embrace the future, seize the day and all that.
I had forgotten who I was. Not “forgotten” in the sense of I didn’t remember; but that it didn’t matter. I’d let that girl go. Paid no attention to her. Never considered how what was had carried over into what is.
I think it’s the divorce, certainly. Starting over requires forging ahead. That’s part of it. The new marriage, the emptying nest, the changes in my parents, an entirely new life in a brand new town. But I was shocked to realize how much I’d left behind, all that I did not recall about who I once was.
I know I’m not who I used to be. I thank God for all the ways in which I have grown and changed and become kinder, better, more honest, more decent. I am different and it is good. But I remember my first encounter with salvation, Southern Baptist style, in which what I understood was required equaled an outright cleansing of the past. Not the “Jesus’ blood makes you clean” sort of thing, but a “you weren’t saved then so your history doesn’t matter” notion. “All that matters is that you are a NEW CREATION THE OLD HAS GONE THE NEW HAS COME.”
(I do believe that, by the way; but not to the extent that to recall that I was the salutatorian of my graduating class didn’t matter because I wasn’t saved then.)
I daresay that’s probably not exactly what was taught, but Lord knows that’s what I caught, and so began a losing battle with recreating The Perfect Christian.
But that’s another blog post…
This one, today, is about the absolute joy I discovered in the attic when I found these things, the relics not of my childhood but of my 30’s and 40’s. Of my days as a young mother (and a newly “saved” Christian). The era of a kid on each hip and one on the way. I sat down and took a hard look at myself, with the gentle compassion that seems to have come my way with age.
I liked what I saw. It gave me great joy and a slow peace. I remembered who I was, where I came from, what I’d been through – not the hard stuff, but the happy.
These things, we keep them or we pass them on, we take them to Goodwill or just leave them sit in the attic. They hold some key to the past, and at a certain point, it’s not worth fearing anymore. Because what has come to be is sane and solid, whole and healthy.
I thought I mostly wanted to leaf through the scrapbooks, but these slight, somewhat kitschy journals are the things that caught my attention and triggered some sort of regeneration of heart and soul, past and present. These are the kids’ journals; books I started for each one when I learned I was pregnant.
(Except for David’s, whose book I started when he was about a month old. He got eight pages written in his before it ended – compared to TWO FULL BOOKS for kids #1 and #2 Poor guy. It’s tough, being the fifth one down the line….I told him the consolation is for the next four years, he gets me all to himself.)
May 16, my 27th birthday, I found out I was pregnant. We’d only been married four months. I bought the first journal, wrote “BABY” inside the front cover, and began to write to someone I only knew through the resonance of her presence in my womb. Lonnie wrote, too, and I feared perhaps my heart would crack, reading of the hopes and dreams that would eventually dissolve and dismantle our family as it was then. But my kinder, gentler heart simply saw the naive excitement of two young people who didn’t know quite what they were getting into. Hindsight, when carefully applied, kindles a grace-filled love and appreciation that is stronger in light of reality, rather than only memory’s shade. The reality is we are still family, in ways that are tinged with pain at times; but also resound with joy.
There are five beginning books, seven in total (when I was much more ambitious with the early kids), each full of wondering and musing, no small amount of preaching and the hopes and dreams for a future family. My handwriting, which still looks the same. My doodles and drawings; the parts of me that remain constant and static, while my world expanded five-fold. The same voice that spoke life and love and patience and grace to these five children, who have grown so much over two decades, who now carry the imprint of my love scrawled upon their skin.
These books showed me myself; the ghost of Life Past, and I came to see that little was wasted. In a way I never expected, these things closed the circle somewhat. I am beginning to think it was a ritual needed to mark this 50th year of life; one that occurred by apparent happenstance, and yet seemed too timely to be coincidental.
Sometimes you’re just ready to sit down and dig into the past. I was, and I did, and I’m better for it.