Friday, May 31, 2013

Endings & beginnings & endings & . . .

      Much of this week I spent either in Portland, Oregon, or on the road between there and Denver.  I was in Portland with my sister and one of her sons.  Our task?  Clean out Mom's house in preparation for it transitioning to new owners.  Mom will be moving into a small one-bedroom apartment out of, and away from, a three-bedroom house that had contained decades-worth of dishes, photos, napkins, gardening supplies, and momentos.   More so than was the case for my nephew, going through each room brought up memories of joys, frustrations and sadnesses.  Along with several major questions:  (1) "Who is taking that?"  (2) "Will I be able to pack all of this?" (3) "What things do we need to keep at-the-ready for when she moves into the new place?"
      Certainly there were many things that I recalled having around me from my childhood, but just as many that I didn't remember (e.g., I'd forgotten that I had a signed hockey stick from one of the Portland Buckaroos!).  There were gifts we had given Mom over the years that had seen regular use.  There were old school photos (which probably should never have seen the light of day since their taking!).  In short, there were plenty of things that I wanted to retain, and just as many that I'd just as soon forget.
      But, Tuesday morning came, and I hopped in the front of the rental truck and began the drive east on I-84.  It occurred to me that I hadn't seen much of the road I was going to see since the mid- 1970's.  And, as it turned out, I took some alternate routes than Google Maps suggested, so I saw scenery I had NEVER seen.  In fact, until I hit central Wyoming, I followed much of the route of the Oregon Trail.  It was, overall, a great drive . . . and it provided plenty of opportunity to reflect on all the stuff in boxes behind me.
      One of the images that wouldn't leave me was the exodus of the Israelites leaving Egypt. (And, no, I'm not comparing my situation with a liberation from bondage!  Or . . . maybe I am!)  The book of Exodus reports that, relatively soon after the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites found themselves in want.  And they began to grumble.  Two-and-a-half months after their departure from Egypt, the "whole community" came before Moses and Aaron and said "Would that we had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!  But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!" (Ex 16.3).  In other words, they preferred bondage to the old ways than to freedom.  They could see little of real worth in their past, nor little promise in their future.
      The Jewish tradition has turned that perspective around, it seems to me.  Throughout Hebrew scriptures the heirs of that exodus community have been charged to recall being in bondage:  the refrain "Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt" occurs in various forms throughout scripture and tradition.  Why "remember"?  Remembering will provide a more expansive view of being a stranger in a strange land.  It will be a reminder of God's deliverance.  The slavery and subsequent deliverance become a defining point.  What those fleeing Egypt thought they should be leaving behind was part of the most important thing that they were carrying forward, a basis for much of their social ethic.
      And so, the boxes behind me were boxes of what I felt was the most important stuff from my past that I should carry into my future.  It wasn't so much the hockey stick or baseball bat.  It was the desk that I had helped my dad refinish.  It was the large binders of family history that my parents had assembled over decades.  It was the dishes that my mom had purchased when we were in certain places in Europe when I was a child.  Many of those things were a hassle to pack and unpack (I have bruises and cuts galore!), but they are central to who I am.
       The ending, then, of the "that's where home is" (i.e., a particular house in Portland) has become a new beginning.  And that, in its turn, becomes a new ending.  And the beat goes on.

Chaplain Gary


  1. Every increased possession loads us with new weariness. -John Ruskin