It’s a season of subtracting for me.
I’ve spent a lifetime accumulating. Collecting books, papers, files, friends, travels, vehicles, a home, a church, jobs and a few paychecks. I have a lot, just not a lot to show for it. I invested a lot of myself in the doing, but from the distance of years, it diminishes.
I rifle through boxes of “the kept.” Don’t need this. I’ll never use this again. Get rid of it, recycle it, leave it behind. Anything I won’t use again is set adrift. Amazing how this season is upon me. Everything that I wouldn’t pack up in a moving box is fair game.
All except the things that are heavy with memories. The rings that mom and dad exchanged on their wedding day. The book that Grandpa wrote. The birthday card my daughter made. And photos. Oh, the photos. These things have the power to tap into memories I didn’t know I had. That circuitry holds all I’ve ever done and, blessedly, has sifted, sorted and centrifuged it into one solitary particle.
That particle is impossibly dense, yet imperceptibly heavy. It’s the lightest thing in the world to carry. It goes anywhere you go and its no burden at all to bear.
All that I have ever loved is there.
Not what I’ve learned or done. Not what I have said or meant to say. Not what I’ve found or lost. By all accounts it is nothing. Yet, it is everything. It has complete power over me. And it empowers me.
“Just go!” it says, “You’ve got everything you need! We’ve seen to that.”
I’m beginning to believe it.
Letting go of what lies behind, I reach toward what lies ahead. How silly I would look toting a suitcase.
I’m in a hole. The further down I go, the darker it gets.
Oh, I don’t know I’m in a hole. I’m busy with projects and activities, schedules and travel. I scurry to complete, scour to clean up, check for misaligned pieces and missing parts. Anyone who looks my way would likely call me capable, organized, got-it-together. Perhaps they would even call me successful.
Not until I look up do I realize the hole I’m in.
On a lovely crisp autumn Saturday, I drive down to Williamsburg, to the College of William and Mary from which I graduated 30 (yes, 30 :)) years ago. I gathered with friends and we shared the “where are you now” conversations.
They are not the conversations of 30 years ago. (where are you headed? what’s on your horizon?)
They are not the conversations of 20 years ago. (what job have you landed? do you have children? how busy are you? me too!)
They are not even the conversations of 10 years ago. (how’s the corner office? what about the stock market? have you saved for your kids’ college?)
No. Today’s conversations are about home-coming. Welcome back. So glad to see you. How has life treated you? We discuss achieving-children and ailing parents, fears and longings, habits and hangups, aches and pains.
Somehow, in the interim we have grown older. Time has passed. In this setting we don’t notice because we’ve gone there together.
One friend and I set off for a stroll across campus. It’s been a while. I want to see what’s changed. We walk past the old and familiar. The brownstone buildings and the well-worn walkways. The statues of famous folks and the gaggles of students. Old and new campus and the lovely Crim Dell. We head to the sunken gardens, a central grassy depression where we used to sit and study or laugh and throw frisbees. Today there is an ugly white tent that covers two thirds of the area. It doesn’t belong there. Do we?
On leaving, I spot a curly blond-headed young man holding the hand of a smiling young woman. I know this boy. He was a student in the church confirmation class I taught 5 years ago. He graduated high school last spring. The twosome is walking toward us but doesn’t notice us. That is the way with young people. They focus on each other.
I am looking around at the campus of my youth. It’s the same old campus, same grounds, same walkways, but it looks different through eyes with thirty years more life. It is spectacular in a new way. Was it this way when we went there. How could I have missed it?
When I frequented the sunken garden, I felt protected by its beauty and was engrossed in learning. Now I’m free to wander. A bit less spryly but still wander. I’m not going places, like I once was. Not worried like I once was. Not even cautious like I once was, though I do watch my step. Because life is full of holes you can fall into if you’re not looking. My wandering has a new dimension; it’s guided.
Today, I look back on a life pock-marked with holes which, ironically, have given me better vision. When I stumble into a depression in the landscape, I look for the staircase out. It’s not a doorway that swings open for me to run through. It’s not a hand to haul me out and set me upright. It’s a staircase lit by the light of Christ. If I take a careful look, I’ll see that something’s amiss. Something is here that shouldn’t be here. Perhaps it’s a big white tent. Or a young blond boy. Or is it me? Wait, it’s Homecoming for both of us.
It’s what this visit home did for me. It reminded me of who I was. Not to torment me with “you’ll never be like this again” but to show me what’s worth keeping and what doesn’t belong. It’s not carved in brownstone, and yet it is. It’s both long gone and on-going. A continuous looking for the same staircase leading me out yet again. Leading me up.
Christ unfolded that staircase into every depth – he descended even to the dead – to provide a way out for us. I have known His sustenance in those places, even the greening of the grass and the sense of protection, but I’m meant to climb out. At His urging but by my own effort. Putting one foot in front of the other. But I must do so with reverence because upon this ground once tread the feet of Christ. And He carried a cross.
There are heavy, heavy indentations in those marble steps. But they have been unfurled downwards, so I might climb up. Paved a path for me to follow, and for generations to come.
Oh, I facebooked Byron, the young man I had passed, asking him what he was doing in “my sunken garden on my homecoming.” He replied, “The better question is what are You doing in My sunken garden on My homecoming?”
I said, “Glad you asked. Hope you’re having a great year. And in 30 years, I hope you’ll be strolling the old hangouts, too. Don’t look for me then. :)”
He replied, “Thank you very much! 30 years? You best believe I will be looking for you then!”
That kid knows Christ, too.