‘Sing to the Lord a new song;’ a song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love. Anyone, therefore, who has learned to love the new life has learned to sing a new song and the new song reminds us of our new life…
How can we choose unless we are first chosen? We cannot love unless someone has loved us first.
— Augustine, Sermon on the Psalms
There is no beginning to create this new story, this new identity except starting from how I was brought to the end of myself, sifted like wheat, and had my heart, formed by the deceits and violences of this world broken open.
— James Alison, Raising Abel
This morning, a turtle swam through the few pristine inches of clear water suspended above the muddy tumult of the pond floor.
His fringed feet pushed against the water with muscular liquidity, without rapidity, patiently schoonering himself over to the sunny rock where his kin were bathing in morning warmth.
When was the last time I saw something so clearly?
When—better question—was the last season of life spent in mornings watching things move instead of moving? It’s hard to see when rushing, due to the Doppler effect. It’s hard to see what you refuse to look at, which is why some Jungian would say we’re afraid of the dark. We hide from so much, pack it away in corners where we can’t see it, under beds where we can’t trip over it, in basements where it won’t remind us, in closets that become caverns housing ghosts each night.
It is better to live with your scars painted on your side, mementos pinned to your wall, griffin tags to remind you: you once were here! During the seasons of life I have felt unrooted, it is the sacramentals in my room that have reminded me of who I am and where I’ve been. An object requires you to acknowledge it—to dust it, clean it, arrange it, put it back on the shelf. You must pick it up in your hands and physically encounter the memories it holds and what they meant. And, subsequently, who you once meant to yourself. And who you once meant to others.
Seeing is an act that takes a great amount of time. Time to stop, and look. Time to pick things up, to examine them. To hold them in your hands or feel their gravity tugging on your line of sight.
Sometimes seeing is spontaneous revelation. Sometimes, like the turtle, nature grabs you by the eyeballs, you are transfixed in the very moment you looked for transfiguration.
But often, seeing is a slower discipline, a training to stay on the rock a moment longer than your itching feet or screeching to-do list would bid you too. As your mind bids you rise from your rock—come now, you have those emails to send! that piece to pen! One, two, or four chores to check off before noon!—resist the rush and unrest. Stay. Seeing begins with remaining.
Perhaps this is just a defense for my sentimental hoarding—of memories in books, of letters, of cards from birthdays pasts, of books that have long over-stayed their shelf life. But, I have an unapologetic fondness for each piece of past that makes up the mosaic of the present.
Our new songs, our new wineskins, of course, do demand some sloughing of skin. And this, too, is beautiful. I love the slow dance of pictures from the digital ether to printed out on CVS paper, put in frames, hung on walls, replacing the old prints. The new prints push out the old prints whose memories are relegated to the deeper archive of the photo album. Memories are sifted through, sorted, slowly shuffled from the subconscious into conscious daylight. Threads are woven, moments chosen to fill their frames.
But I do believe, on a level more foundational to my emotional packrat, that the future is made from the past. Seeing is a committing to memory—what is memory but seeing unobstructed by time? Memory is a remaining with the past, a making peace with what has been, and a commitment to seeing what is truly there.
I cannot see myself as clearly as I see the turtle.
Despite all these words, I never can.
But my sight begins with what I cannot see—my own self as deep wells of memory—forgotten photographs packed away, old thoughts and dreams filling up diaries filling up boxes underneath my old bed. The I that I am is not forgotten, not hidden away, but stored. Packed in boxes that are kept for acts of remembrance.
I am packed away in boxes, mostly. But some parts of me are stretched across my wall, reminding me of what has come before, of what I’m building on. Proud signs of each tree ring I am made of—time solidified to bark, memories distilled into pictures on the wall, books on the shelf, and the stories of how I was brought to the end of memory, the end of myself.
That is, today. Right now.