50 year birthday. Thanksgiving. Christmas Season. One son in college and another with his first car. It has all piled up on me. As I was driving to meet a couple of new clients this morning, my mind was flooded with memories. It was like watching an old 8mm film of my life, projected onto a white bed sheet hung from the mantle in the living room, only in my head, distracting me from the rainy day outside my jeep.
I saw the mobile home on the southeast side of Monroe Louisiana, where from my toddler perspective the distance from the threshold to the ground outside seemed like the cliffs of Dover or Niagara falls.
I remembered the giant oak tree at Lakeshore Elementary. The huge branches stretched out from the trunk above my head but came all the way to the ground several feet out, creating a natural arbor where I could hide from the other kids, except for the few that chose to come into my world.
I could see the glowing eyes out in the woods at the Green’s house. I know now those were raccoons and possums and such, but back then they were bigfoot and thump-drag and all the other boogey-men I knew were watching me and I hoped I would never meet.
I recollect that when I was a drummer in high school I used to enjoy throwing in a random eighth note when playing at football games, just to throw off the cheerleaders’ dancing.
I can still hear my dad’s voice as I interrupted his quiet on the back porch to ask Bible question. I can still feel his hug.
I can feel the breeze and smell the fresh cut grass where my family used to sit on an old quilt in Vicksburg Nat’l Park for a picnic. Of all the vacations we took, those were my favorite. Just us.
I remember like yesterday, meeting my “adopted family” of my college years, at Glorieta Camp in New Mexico, having no understanding then of the role they would play in my story.
I remember working through life, religion and philosophical problems at the tracks while watching trains pass in the middle of the night with my good friend, and later learning that he was afraid to tell me he was gay because of the judgment he assumed I would give.
I remember a long walk on those same tracks with the best friend I would ever have – M, after returning from school in England. That’s when we both knew we would marry.
I remember a young boy in Alaska that I had the privilege of bringing to Christ. John did more more for me than I did for him.
I still hurt for the girl at the salmon cannery in Whittier who was determined to die in childbirth just to get her revenge against God for letting her mother die the same way.
I still see the carpet and the furniture in a dorm room at Louisiana College during a summer session, where, struggling between athiesm and Christianity, I felt the most complete and utter loneliness and abandonment I had ever felt.
I can still hear the voice of the college minister at that time, accusing me of “not knowing what I believe,” and wondering how he could read me that well.
I recall with no longing to re-live it, at all, long nights of studying torts and contracts and con-law with the friends of that time, and finding great victory in being able to explain Palsgraf to one another.
I remember seeing my bride at the end of the center aisle of the church in Morgan City.
Sitting on the curb, unable to think or do anything but cry when guests were coming into the funeral home to pay respects to Dad.
Cutting the umbilical cords. No words.
Winning trials in Arkansas and the joy and relief of clients befitting from my work.
Sitting on the back porch of a cabin in Missouri, laughing with friends until our eyes were watering, as we tried to scare away whatever axe murderer we heard in the woods below.
Losing an election in Arkansas and feeling the rejection of thousands of voters all in one single, intensely painful instance.
Moments with God, the Creator, where He seemed to be focusing on little me so intently as to allow no doubt of His existence to survive in the blinding light of His presence.
I could go on for days, obviously. I have said for some time, years – before I felt it at all – that old age is when is you have more memories than hopes and dreams. My grandmother and I used to talk about that, and we agreed that she was there and I was not.
I’m still not there, but I’m closer than I was then. That’s why I appreciate those opportunities when I am granted the privilege of a good conversation with my son, or my wife, or mom, or brother. To empart the little I’ve learned the hard way to my sons, so they they can get it the easy way, making room to learn something yet deeper the hard way. To hurt with them and rejoice with them.
My memories and hopes are just beginning to even out. I’m enjoying the peace of the level ground. When these two things balance, I find that I am better able to check the reality of the hopes against the facts of the memories, to judge where I should invest myself.
So thanks to the people who have touched my life. Even to those of you who screwed me over because you suck. God used you in spite of yourself.
Here’s to the next half. What more can I possibly learn? (jk)