Going Back (NaPoWriMo 2019/11)



The road still runs straight
but the surroundings have changed.
The once-dry creekbed
is bubbling over its banks;
the meadow is all abloom.

~ Rebekah Choat



By the Sea (NaPoWriMo 2019/5)


It was many and many a year ago –
seventy-five or -six summers or so –
near a cluster of cottages by the sea;
I can picture it still in my memory.

I was a child, and she was a child,
and I was solemn, and she was wild,
but we loved with a love that was more than love,
mixed with salt and the sea and the sun above.

We lived through that summer in fairy-tale land –
two sunburnt princesses, hair full of sand.
Then our mothers packed up, and we left with the tide
for our distant home-places; she howled, and I cried.

I waited the next year, but she never came;
and I’m never quite sure I remember her name.

~ Rebekah Choat


Tuesday’s Word: pensieve


A pensieve is a magical item in the Harry Potter books
which is used by characters to gather and process their
memories, or to remove the burden of excess memories.
Albus Dumbledore says that he uses it to store thoughts
that are weighing on his mind, or to organize memories
which seem to be connected. The ability to enter a vivid
memory also helps to shed light on new information.

I remarked once a few years ago that I thought it would be very convenient to own a pensieve. A few moments later, it struck me that I do.

I have kept a diary or journal sporadically for some forty years. I started with one of the little pink ones with a tiny padlock, with the pages all neatly sectioned out – four or five lines to a day, a full week on a two-page spread, filled for the first few weeks with such entries as “Grandma came to visit” and “Roxanna was mean to me at school again today.” By my teen years I had moved on to simple spiral notebooks or even just loose leaf paper stuck in a folder, and I still write in inexpensive college-ruled notebooks today.

None of the early pink diaries have survived, to my knowledge, although it’s not outside the realm of possibility that my mother still has them in a box somewhere. I do, however, have perhaps a couple hundred pages dating from January 20, 1981 (the topic of which was President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and the release of hostages in Iran) to today. I leaf back through them from time to time, and of course, they do perform the above-described functions of a pensieve, though in a somewhat less mystical way.

They are collections of memories, some of which I have only begun to process. Many of the entries fit in the category of excess memories or issue weighing on my mind, and both writing them out and revisiting them years later helps to relieve some of their heaviness. I often see recurring themes and connections now that I had no idea of at the time of writing. From the distance of twenty or thirty years, I can sift out – sometimes – what was true and what may have been just projection, and occasionally why I felt as I did. And yes, the ability to re-enter some of my most vivid memories does help to shed light on new information, or to shed new light on old information that I’m still working through.

Tuesday’s Word: remember

remember (v): to bring to mind or think of again; to retain in the memory

“Remembering is hard,” Pastor Preston said in his sermon a few weeks ago. It’s a truth borne out not only by the anecdotes of his own forgetfulness; most of us have at least occasional lapses of memory, brought to our attention by the officer who tickets us for our expired auto registration, or the friend who calls to say she’s been waiting fifteen minutes already at the meeting place we agreed on last Friday. We remember, right after the smoke alarm goes off, that the cookies need to come out of the oven; we’re jolted from near sleep when we realize, as we check off the accomplishments of the day, that we forgot to send our mother-in-law a birthday card.

Ann Voskamp, in One Thousand Gifts, muses that ‘remembering is an act of thanksgiving, a way of thanksgiving, this turn of the heart over time’s shoulder to see all the long way His arms have carried us.’ This is the kind of remembering Preston wanted to direct us toward that Sunday before Thanksgiving; the practice of being mindful, of remembering how many things we forget to say ‘thank you’ for throughout the year, throughout our lives. It is good to be exhorted to recall with gratitude the many blessings we so often fail to count.

But for many people, remembering is hard in a different way, more pronouncedly during the holidays than at other times of year. The problem for them is not that they don’t remember – it’s that they do, in stark, vivid detail. In their minds, images of happy families gathering on the television screen are overwritten with mental home movies of domestic dysfunction; displays of abundance are reminders of lack; cheery music is drowned out by the roar of hurtful words whose echoes never fade.

I’ve spent more than one Christmas season in the depths of depression myself; yet, even with my experience there, I can’t give an authoritative answer to the question of how to help someone for whom this time of year is tough. One size doesn’t fit all.

Going out with friends may be uplifting for one person, while it’s just too much effort for another. ‘Retail therapy’ might feel like a trip directly through Hell for some. Being welcomed to a boisterous Christmas party could revitalize others. The bright, jingly songs that make one feel better may make another want to scream.

Practical assistance is valuable in some cases. Taking someone’s car to get the oil changed could shorten his impossible to-do list enough to give him a little breathing space. An overwhelmed mother might be more grateful than you can imagine if you would take her kids to see Santa along with yours.

Emotional support is sometimes more important. Talking through old hurts with a sympathetic listener is often a necessary step toward healing, as is feeling safe enough with someone to share secret fears and hidden shame. An answering voice on the phone at 2:00 a.m. can be a very real lifeline.

In the end, I think it all comes down to presence. It can probably never be said enough times: the assurance that you are not alone somehow makes just about anything more bearable. If you know someone who is struggling this season, making yourself available – really, truly, physically and emotionally available – to them, in whatever capacity they need, may well be the gift that gets them through.

This day in history

This time yesterday —
or twenty-four years ago,
it might have been —
the whole world —
or maybe it was just my bed —
heaved and convulsed and spun round,
madly methodically crushing me.

After eternity —
or a few hours, perhaps —
the universe —
or my room, one or the other —
stood solid again, though shaken,
and I was not destroyed.

~ Rebekah Choat