Tag Archives: memories

Telling stories

Recently, a friend and I had breakfast with a man I had worked with in the 1970’s. His wife was also with us, and she told my friend the story of how I had left that job.

When she finished, I said, “That’s a good story. It’s not what happened, but it’s a good story.” Then I added, “Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.”  

I love stories and storytelling. The Moth Radio Hour is my favorite story-telling venue, and I love their disclaimer: Moth stories are true, as remembered by the storyteller.

If memory is a muscle, mine is the most underdeveloped muscle in my body. I grew up in a home where we worked to forget, where we denied unpleasant experiences and just got on with life. Don’t remember was the takeaway for me.

memories-storytelling-stories

In my twenties, I used to joke that when I got old, no one could say old age was the reason my memory was so bad, because it was bad even then.

Culture Shift, a public radio show about the local music scene, recently did a shout-out for stories about meeting famous musicians. I don’t remember ever calling in to a radio show before, but I called in that day to share a story.

The story, as I remember it, is that in 1977, I was living in Allentown, PA, and working downtown. The hotel across the street had a pool, and that summer, I went for a daily swim during my lunch hour. Usually, I had the pool to myself, but one day several guys were there I did not recognize. I was twenty-five at the time, and they were around my age.

One of the guys came over, introduced himself and asked what there was to do in Allentown. I said I had only recently moved there, so I didn’t know.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Detroit,” I told him.

“Bob is from Detroit,” he said and then he called Bob over and introduced us.

We had the usual where did you go to school chat and talked about our favorite places in Detroit. Then I went back to work.

The next morning, my local newspaper featured a front-page photo of the guys from the pool. Their band had headlined the music festival the previous night. I had no idea who they were—even after reading the article.

I shared on Culture Shift that I live under a pop-culture rock and always have. I would not have known Bob Seger from Bob Dylan. I wondered if the Bob I met was shocked that I had no idea who he was or if he thought I was playing it cool by not fawning over him.

The Culture Shift host asked if there was any musician I would have recognized. “Paul McCartney,” I said without hesitation.

I hope someday to get up the courage to pitch a story to The Moth. Until then, this is my stage.

Speaking of miracles

One year on my annual silent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director a memory that surfaced during my prayer time. He suggested that memories often hold invitations for some new insight or understanding, and he encouraged me to spend some time with the memory to see if I could learn something new.

Since then, I have tried to pay closer attention as memories surface. I often write to the person in the memory—even just a note to say, “I am thinking of you”—and I try to keep the memory present to see if it is offering some insight or invitation.

Over the years, I have come to see a similar invitation when random conversations or events happen more than once in a short period of time. This past week was such a week—three times, I found myself talking about miracles.

I believe miracles happen, but I don’t often think about them or talk about them. Yet, three times in one week…I decided I needed to pay attention.

While pondering these conversations about miracles, a woman I once lived with came to mind.

Her name is Catherine, and we lived in a housing coop designed to bring together people who have developmental disabilities with those who don’t. Catherine was in her thirties, and she relied on others to meet her basic needs. She lived on the first floor of a large house with a couple who saw to her daily needs, and I lived in an upstairs apartment.

A year or so after I had moved out of Catherine’s house (and to another state), I attended a healing service at a local church. I wasn’t looking for healing for myself but went more to support the person who had organized this event.

During the service, we were all invited to come forward to be prayed over. The presider said that even if we were unaware of where we might need healing, we were welcome to come forward. Or, he said, we could call to mind someone else who needed healing and think of that person as we were prayed over.

Just then, Catherine came to mind. I hadn’t been in touch for months, so I did not know if she was actually sick, but I walked forward thinking of her.

A few months after that prayer service, I was talking with Catherine’s mom, and she told me Catherine had been in hospital for an extended period and no treatment seemed to be helping her get better; they believed she was going to die. And then, miraculously, she said, Catherine got better.

I remembered the healing service from a few months earlier and asked when this had been.

Catherine’s mom remembered the exact date because the change in Catherine’s condition occurred in an instant—it was the same time I was thinking of Catherine and being prayed over.

I don’t know why these conversations about miracles occurred, but I am grateful for the reminder that miracles do happen.

At home

Something stirred deep inside me

as I drove through the streets

of the city where my life began.

Feelings of familiarity and belonging,

rootedness.

My body relaxed into who I once was,

the girl who played in these streets and

later took the bus to the Main Library and

then hitchhiked with my cousin when we were young teens,

which, even back then, was quite risky.

The shops lining the streets are unfamiliar—

African braiding salons and check-cashing stores—

but the names on the street signs conjure up

memories from a long ago past.

As much as the city has changed,

so have I.

And yet, my body still recognizes this place as home.

Memories

His bright red sweatshirt,

two sizes too big for me,

has faded and frayed.

I still wear it,

like a blanket,

wrapping me in his warmth.

Every time I let go of something—his favorite hat,

the coffee mug he brought back from Germany,

the wine glasses from Napa—

am I letting go of him?

Years pass and

memories dim with distance.

Yet I still remember that I loved and was loved.

The benefits of journaling

God-journaling-mindfulness

Every morning, I spend at least a half hour writing in my journal. I begin with recording any dreams I can recall, noting as many details as I can and then titling the dream and identifying where I felt the strongest emotion.

I used to belong to a dream group that met monthly. We shared our dreams as a way of gaining insights into our relationships with God. In the Bible, God is said to have spoken to many people through dreams, and I believe God still speaks to us via this channel. Recoding my dreams and letting any images, thoughts or memories bubble up is another way of discerning God’s movement in my life.

After recording any dreams I remember, I move on to reviewing the previous day and noting anything of significance (plus some seemingly mundane things). I title this section, Blessings of the Day, and it is a way to pay attention to the people and events of my life and to look at my reactions to those people and events.

The blessings include encounters with family, friends and strangers and the day’s activities. For example, yesterday, I went out to breakfast with a couple from work. Not only did I interact with them, but I also spoke with the server. That day also included my book group and a visit with a friend.

I jot down anything that caught my attention—anything someone said or did that resonated with me—and I note people who come to mind.

After reviewing the previous day, I write God—just that one word. I recall when I spoke God’s name, when I expressed gratitude or when I asked for help. I think of when I felt God inviting me to be more open or to let go. I note any words, images or experience that gave me pause, that invited me into deeper reflection.

Then, I turn to scripture and spend some time in reading, reflecting, praying and more writing.

Journaling helps me to be more aware of all the good in my life, and that awareness leads to deeper gratitude. It also helps me see where I am being called to grow—where I am challenged and invited to stretch beyond what I currently see and believe.

God-journaling-mindfulness

I love words, so writing in a journal works for me. But there are other ways to record your blessings and challenges—drawing, painting, creating collages or other means of creativity that help to imprint the activities of the day or week.

I have read about the health benefits of journaling; what I know in my own life is that by the time my mother was my age, she was on multiple blood pressure medicines, but I take no prescription medicines. My PCP calls me her patient she does not worry about because my vitals are so good. I credit journaling with making the difference.

Do you journal? Or somehow record the events of your life? How does journaling help you?

God-journaling-mindfulness

He’s gone

Love can start with a laugh or a touch or a second glance.

Our eyes look out onto the same reality

but see it differently.

Fate?

Destiny?

Trust or doubt,

believe or question.

Did an angel bring him to me?

No one knows at the beginning of a relationship

where it will go or how it will end.

The man I loved is gone.

Feeling safe

My annual retreat was cancelled because of the pandemic. The retreat director, though, is offering an alternative, on-line retreat. Instead of eight days, she is offering eight weeks of virtual retreat.

Every Sunday, she sends prayers, scripture passages, reflection questions and poetry, plus a link to a video with reflections and guided meditations.

Last Sunday, during a guided meditation, the director invited us to recall a time when we felt safe—perhaps a childhood memory or a particular place or person. She gave us a bit of silence to recall.

But the recollection time she allotted was not enough for me, because I could not remember a time when I felt safe.

I had to pause the video, as I flipped through memories of my childhood and came up empty—no places or events when I felt safe for any length of time.

There were moments, glimpses into how safety might feel, but my anxiety and feelings of dread usually rush in before I can hunker down into a deep sense of security.

I am the person who asks, “Is it safe?” when someone tells me she is going for a walk in a park or for a bike ride alone. I am attuned to incidents of unsafety—a runner mugged, someone carjacked, purses snatched, etc. Every incident reinforces my not feeling safe.

Even where I go on retreat is carefully researched. A friend once suggested a place he had gone—”lots of woods nearby for walking,” he said. “I can’t walk through the woods,” I said. I need a retreat center with open grounds.

Eventually, a memory surfaced from when I was thirty-five—a weeklong windjammer cruise off the coast of Maine, my first real vacation.

I grew up in a house where planning a vacation was useless because something always happened to cause plans to be abandoned, or at least changed so dramatically that they bore little resemblance to what had been planned. The lesson was don’t make plans.

But after several years of therapy, I was ready to move against my history and plan a vacation. I loved being on the water and a windjammer cruise sounded like something I could relax into.

A friend agreed to go with me, and we booked our August trip the prior January—eight months of worry about what could go wrong. But, other than a minor traffic delay on the way to Maine, the trip happened as planned.

Every morning, I would wake at my usual 6:00 a.m. and sit in silence on the deck, sipping my coffee and praying in gratitude. Throughout that week, I remember being aware of how relaxed I was, how comfortable I was in my own skin. This is what it is like to feel safe, I remember thinking.

spirituality-meditation-mindfulness
The J&E Riggin Windjammer

Then another memory surfaced: A massage therapist suggesting that every night before I go to sleep, I take a deep breath and say, “I am safe.”

I returned to the retreat video gratefully holding these two memories.

What are your memories of feeling safe?

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?