Monday, July 15, 2013

A History Lesson

"The past is never dead. It's not even past." (William Faulkner)
My family recently moved out of a church rectory where we had lived for the past fifteen and a half years, Important years, at that, especially for my two sons. For the rest of their lives, when asked where they are from, both of them will answer "Holden" (as I still answer "Hawley" - even though I have not lived there for over three decades now.) That is where they went to school. That is where they graduated from high school. 

Moving after putting down deep roots is painful. Yes, it is exciting to move into a new home and to say that it is "ours" even if in fact it mostly belongs still to the bank. But it is also a bit sad to walk through empty rooms where so much living happened. I can only imagine what it is like to live in the same home for thirty or forty years, and to go through such a move needing to "downsize" after the death of a spouse, or because one can no longer climb the stairs. 

Even though this move has been unfolding for weeks now, it was not really until yesterday that I got to a box of old letters and papers that included a good bit of writing I did on the tenth anniversary of my father's death. My dad died in the spring of 1982 - more than thirty years ago. On the tenth anniversary of his death and only a couple of years after the birth of my eldest son, I wrote an "epistle" (that is really the only word for it) to my three siblings. At the time I was a campus minister, living on the second floor of a three-decker in New Britain, Connecticut. I was in the midst of a major life shift, from son to father. My brother's oldest daughter had also just been born, so he, too, had recently become a daddy. 

There were some things I needed to try to understand about my life - about our life together as children. And so I wrote to my siblings and they wrote back. 

This blog is not the place for sharing private matters. But the experience of re-reading those letters may be of interest, and may be something readers can relate to in their own journeys. I went through a lot of old memories in that box yesterday, but none more poignant and even heart-wrenching than those four letters. Like the four gospels, they were testimonies of a sort. 

We all grew up in the same home. We had many shared experiences and many happy memories, as well as some sad ones. But each of us saw things from different angles, filtered through our own experiences based on gender, birth order, and personality. Reading through those letters again, more than a score of years later still, I realize anew just how multivalent and elusive the "truth" really is. 

And that Faulkner was right: the past is never dead. It's not even past. 

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