"The loss of how we used to be --- made from the materials of how we used to live --- must simply be borne. We are too far gone." (Melissa Holbrook Pierson, in The Place You Love is Gone)
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." (Ps. 137:1)Come along on my morning walk, will you?
Today, like most days, I walk in a neighborhood defined by the manicured lawns of services that regard the droppings of the forest out of which we came --- pine cones, multi-colored leaves, and cast-off tree limbs --- as an offense to the picture perfect lawn. Lawns have become the background to houses, a setting, to be seen and yet not enjoyed, not walked on or played on. Life is inside, not outside. The people gather around 50-inch plasma screens, watching lives play out before them, narrate their existence with Facebook and Twitter. Believe it or not, it's not important to me what you are doing right now. But I do sometimes wonder about the people behind the mostly dark houses that I pass.
One home, though adjacent to well-cared for homes on either side, seems to bear a heavy burden. Leaves spill over its gutters, a pine tree even taking root in one; the roof is stained and mildewed; the lawn has returned to forest, a couple years of unraked pine straw returning it to a forest floor. An Oldsmobile sits in the same place in the driveway day after day. No one comes out. No lights are in the windows. Something has happened in this home. Has life come undone for the occupants? Have they suffered a long illness? The leaves and forest droppings gathered on the roof seem to press in and the house seems on the verge of falling back into the earth, dust to dust. It's easy to turn observation to prayer --- for health, for wholeness, for life inside that will be reflected in a care for the outside.
There are elderly folks living in this part of the neighborhood, people who likely bought their homes in the Sixties when they were in their late Twenties or early Thirties, rearing children in these homes, sending them off on their own, celebrating marriages, enjoying grandchildren. I see them more often than the Thirty-somethings that live in the new homes. They walk to the end of their driveways to get the paper, and they speak to me, and they have that unhurried look about them. Praying when I see them is easy as well. I'm thankful they live, that they remind me to slow down, to notice people.
At one point the road bends and I turn up what used to be a country road, still in the county proper, forested on both sides, and yet it is changing. On the right was once a ranch style house with a circular drive. I recall the old couple that lived there. It's gone now, torn down and the forest cleared to make room for quarter acre lots with large houses. In the front of where the house stood, near the road, a contractor had the foresight and kindness to leave three trees --- a magnolia and two Japanese maples, all mature. I look at them and imagine a mother, father, and a son and a life in the country, life in the old house that once stood here. I suspect that lost under the ground, plowed under when new construction came, are lost keys, toys, and homework papers, tilled into the ground, and so the earth bears their memory still. We think when we make things new we end what came before, but it's not that easy. Memories weigh on places, still inhabit the corners of homes, circle the trees in a yard played around by children, are etched in the traces of old driveways. I remember to be thankful for memories and to hope for redeemed memories, transformed by Heaven's perspective.
Turning yet another corner, I walk past an elementary school. I don't like these new schools one bit. This one, like so many other ones built in the last ten years, are more like fortresses than schools. The old school that stood on this spot was parklike, single-story, with classrroms that had windows and doors that opened onto courtyards. Passing them, windows open, you could her the life inside, the teachers' chalk on blackboards, the chatter of children. Now, behind the hermetically-sealed windows and doors, I hear nothing and see nothing. I pray for children inside, for their safety and yet for lives lived without fear because of the security God can provide.
I turn for home, trailing memories behind me, thankful for my home. Tomorrow I'll come this way again, circling the past, remembering, praying, and watching from the outside looking in. As I watch things change, melancholy would take root but for the promise that this is not the end of change. History is moving toward a new Homeland of reconstructed people, places, and memories. I just keep walking, watching, and praying.