Tag Archives: memories

Open your heart

In the quiet, alone with my thoughts, reflecting.

I remember the many times God reached out to me.

Trying, again and again, to find a way in.

Forgive, let go, live, trust.

Images, words, memories.

A new year, another chance.

Open the door to your heart and let love in.

Christmas memory

I am thinking of writing a memoir and bought Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away to help me with the process. One of the writing prompts was the history of nuts in your life, which brought back this memory:

The Christmas season officially began in our house the day my dad came home with bags of nuts and candy.

Every year, my dad went to buy nuts and candy at Eastern Market—a wholesale market area near downtown Detroit with large, semi-open sheds surrounded by small shops. My dad took me to the Market once—to buy meat from the butcher—and I remember it as being a noisy, gritty place.

Christmas-tradition-memoir

My dad favored the Germack Pistachio Company, where he would buy pistachios and an assortment of other nuts and candies.

Christmas-tradition-memoir

Seeing him walk through the door with his arms full of large, brown paper bags signaled Christmas was near. Each large bag was filled with smaller paper bags, each containing a different treat.  

The nonpareils and chocolate chunks were my favorite (and probably started my lifelong love affair with chocolate).

My mom brought out a large, wooden tray that was only used for Christmas nuts. It had small bins for the different kinds of nuts and a spot in the middle to hold the nutcracker and picks needed to dig out the nut meats. All the nuts my dad brought home needed to be shelled.

Our nutcrackers were not the fancy kind pictured in the story book of the Nutcracker; ours were unadorned v-shaped metal tools.

Some of the shells cracked easily and the nuts practically fell out; walnuts and peanuts were in this category. Others, though, were more difficult to crack, and I avoided those.

We each had our own way of cracking and eating nuts—cracking several nuts at a time and making a pile of the nutmeats or cracking and eating the nuts as we went along; I cracked and ate as I went along.

My brother used his front teeth to open his pistachios, which led to red fingers that would remain stained for days. I would open one pistachio with my teeth and then use the shell from that one to open the next.

My brothers and I mostly ate the pistachios, peanuts and walnuts, while my dad and the other adults who visited our home during the holidays ate the more exotic nuts (Brazils and filberts).

My dad walking in with the bags from Eastern Market was one of my favorite moments of the Christmas season, because it was a sign of how much my dad cared for us, of his thoughtfulness and generosity.

I moved back to Michigan almost seven years ago, and the first time I visited Eastern Market and saw the Germack Pistachio bags, I was transported back to this Christmas memory from my childhood. I gasped and said, “My dad used to buy our Christmas nuts and candy here!” And I smiled.

What is your history with nuts?

Being present to the past

A recent magazine article evoked memories of something that happened thirty years ago, a short chapter in my life I had not thought about in all these years.

As I allowed the scene to play out in my mind, certain details of the people involved came into sharp focus. I remember the names and faces of people who were part of my life for only a few months.

Two men came into my life because one of the men was dying and needed a place to go for the final weeks of his life. I was living in a guest house and was happy to welcome them during this difficult time.

Once this memory resurfaced, I let it play out, allowing the scenes of everyday life with these two men to present themselves. I recalled the people who came to visit them, and I remembered one visitor in particular whose fidelity I greatly admired.

And then I asked God what invitation this memory is offering me. Why now? Why these people and their situation? Why such sharp details?

St. Paul encourages us to forget the past and move on to the future (Philippians 3:13), and I get that. But sometimes the past can hold an invitation or a gift that is helpful to the present.

I have chapters in my past that I would rather not revisit—dark times when I behaved badly and did hurtful things. But just because I try to ignore them does not mean they go away. And sometimes revisiting them can offer a clue to some healing that I need now.

Evelyn Underhill prayed, O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where I hide memories and tendencies on which I do not care to look, but which I will not disinter and yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them.

I have been praying this prayer for the past six months or so, and maybe God is answering with memories like this one from thirty years ago. Maybe it is revealing a tendency on which I do not care to look but which needs to not only be looked at but offered to God for healing.

Underhill ends her prayer, Lord, I bring all these to you, and I review them in your steadfast light.

God-vulnerability-faith

For me, the goal and the gift of the spiritual life is freedom—the freedom to live with open hands, accepting whatever comes to me. To do that, I need God’s light to shine a spotlight on those places where I am unfree—my comfort zone.

God invites me to move beyond my comfort zone and to face what limits my freedom.

Unfortunately, a large portion of my comfort zone is filled with negativity and insecurity, and I struggle to see my own goodness.

God invites me to replace negative self-talk with affirmations.

Maybe this memory came back to me to remind me of my generosity in giving this man a place to live his final days.

God-vulnerability-faith

Misplaced loyalty

When we were in our mid-thirties, my cousin wrote me and asked if we could get together for dinner the next time I came home for a visit.

We grew up more like sisters than cousins, and as children, she knew me better than anyone else.

Her request to meet seemed a bit odd, though, because we had drifted apart after high school.

Now she was in therapy and had some questions for me. Her childhood memories were fuzzy and had some blank spaces; she hoped I would be able to bring clarity to her murkiness and fill in some of the blanks.

At dinner, she asked about one of our uncles. I shuddered.

“If we had known of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch,’” she said, “he would have been a bad-touch uncle.” I agreed.

As far back as I could remember, I had tried to avoid this uncle, who liked to bounce me on his lap and “tickle” my still-undeveloped breasts. She confided that she, too, had learned to give him a wide berth.

Even at a young age we both knew that other adults saw anything wrong in what he did to us, and no one would stop him.

“What about us?” my cousin asked. “Why didn’t anyone protect us? Why were we left to feel shame for something he did?”

God-healing-vulnerability

The memory of that dinner with my cousin thirty years ago resurfaced recently.

Lately, I seem to be tuned into the secrets people keep. In novels—where more is left unsaid than shared—and television detective stories—where people withhold facts from the police—what goes unsaid has been catching my attention.

Why the hesitation? The resistance? Why not tell all? 

The answer frequently is the desire to protect someone.

God-healing-vulnerability

Perhaps novelists and screenwriters are emphasizing the things people don’t say as a way of pointing out how common the practice is. Perhaps they are using their craft to nudge people into greater honesty because they know how harmful secrets can be, how damaging it is to protect people who are abusing their power.

Maybe I am more aware of the destructiveness of keeping secrets and protecting people because of what is happening in my church. Those in power seem to be willing to do anything to hold onto their power, covering up egregious acts and maintaining a code of silence. Or maybe it is because of politicians and celebrities demanding loyalty or paying hush money to keep their secrets.

Other than that dinner with my cousin, I have not talked about my uncle and the impact his actions had on me.

One thing I can see clearly, though, is how this early lesson helped shape my sense of “loyalty” and my understanding of the need to protect people who have something to lose—be it their reputation, job or family.  

In the end, the truth usually comes out. And it often turns out that people already knew, or at least had an inkling, of the truth.

fear-trust-faith

Trust

I think that my blog post last week sparked my thinking about the ways fear has impacted my life. Since writing about love lost, I have been flooded with memories of other occasions when I made decisions based on fear rather than trust.

How many times have I lost love because I was too scared? How many missed opportunities for love have there been?

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, I tell myself over and over. But living those words continues to challenge me.fear-trust-faithI recently watched Inside Out, an animated film about the emotions that influence our lives—joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Riley, the girl in the movie, grows up in a loving family; when she is eleven, her father’s work takes the family from Minnesota to California. Everything changes, and she goes from primarily being joyful to being terribly angry. In her anger, she loses trust in her parents and makes decisions that are clearly misguided.fear-trust-faithAs I watched the movie, I wondered about my own decision-making history. I wondered how many times my family and friends have watched me make decisions based on fear or anger—and stood by shaking their heads at my misguided choices.

After I had lived in l’Arche for about six months, I came back to Pennsylvania for a two-week holiday. My friends were shocked at my appearance. In those six months, I had lost twenty pounds or so and apparently looked unhealthy. I knew I was fatigued and generally unhappy, but my friends’ reactions were alarming.

“You can’t go back there,” one friend after another told me.

Not go back? I had to go back. I had made a commitment.

But, like Riley in the movie, I was having a really tough time. Change can be so difficult.

How could I admit—after just six months—that I had made a mistake or that I could not do what I had set out to do? Pride and fear paralyzed me.fear-trust-faithGoing back meant my health would continue to suffer. Moving back after six months felt like a failure. Neither option held much hope for me; either way, I felt like I was a disappointment.

Looking back on that time, I can now see options and possibilities that were not clear to me then.

Back then, fear was motivating my decisions. Fear of failure, fear of looking weak, fear of disappointing. My judgment was clouded.

Inside Out shined a light on how memories stack up to create a preference or inclination. If I have lots of joyful memories, I am more likely to expect joy and to look for it. If my memories are sad, fearful or angry, I am more likely to see through that lens.

Moving from fear to trust is a conscious decision, and I have decided to recall two joyful memories every time sad or angry memories surface. Hopefully this small exercise will help tip the scales away from fear and toward trust.fear-trust-faith

 

love-hope-fear

Love lost

A few weeks ago, the movie Letters to Juliet popped into my mind and I couldn’t seem to let it go. I’d seen it before, but I decided to rent it.

The movie is based on a non-fiction book about notes posted on the wall outside the house of Juliet of Verona and the “secretaries” who respond to the notes. I have never been to Verona, but apparently there really is a house called Casa di Giulietta—Juliet’s House—at Via Cappello, 23, Verona, with a courtyard where people leave letters.love-hope-fearThe movie is about an English woman who abandoned her Italian lover fifty years earlier and returns to search for him.

As I watched this movie the other night, I remembered a man I had met more than thirty years ago.

I had gone with a friend to upstate New York to support her at the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. I was against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, so I resonated with the anti-nuclear message of this group.love-hope-fearBut the encampment challenged me in ways I had not expected, and my discomfort intensified throughout that first day. I was too conventional for this kind of demonstration and found myself thinking of how I could get away.

By the end of that first day, my inner voice was saying, Leave now and don’t come back.

My distress continued into that evening, and I went for a run to regain my equilibrium.

We were staying with my friend’s cousin at his farm. The countryside was beautiful—rolling hills, farmlands and forests. The run was somewhat strenuous, but it felt good to exert myself physically as I grappled with my emotional dilemma.love-hope-fearAnd then on a steep hill, something snapped in my back and pain shot down my leg. I stood on the side of the road, bent over in agony, sobbing—and far from where I was staying. Somehow I managed to hobble home and then crumpled to the living room floor. Someone brought me an icepack and aspirin.

For several hours I just lay there, feeling relief from staying still.

At some point, a man came into the living room and introduced himself as Ross, a friend of the people I was staying with; he lived in their renovated chicken coop.

For the rest of that day, Ross kept me company. He was a landscaper by trade, but a poet by temperament. We talked for most of the night.

The next day, my host took me to a chiropractor; one adjustment eased the pain enough that I was able to sit in a car for the ride home.

Ross wrote beautiful, romantic letters to me and even came to visit. He was smitten; I was scared.love-hope-fearI said the distance between Ithaca and Philadelphia was too great—and our relationship ended before it really got started.

And yet, there he was in my memory as I watched a movie about love lost and found.