Saturday, August 13, 2011

I've already forgotten so much...

I have developed the habit of taking photos of my feet, my shoes, my hand, my journal, even my shadow when I travel. In the moments before I take these unconventional self-portraits, I am invariably lost in a daydream, a moment of bliss, in which I am telling myself things like, "I will remember this moment forever. I will never forget how I feel right now... But just in case, let me take a few photos of some appendage as a memory place-holder for later in life."

Invariably, within a couple of weeks of returning home from whatever life-altering, soul-stirring journey I've taken, I forget. I forget what it felt like to step off the plane into a new language, culture, and life. I forget the car rides and conversations. I forget the sacred and simple beauty of the place, the food, the silence, the prayer, the journaling. I forget.

I chide myself, I berate myself, I insult myself for how quickly the memories fade, how depleted my memory banks are, how unreliable my accounts of moments I swore, swore, swore would never be forgotten. I've already forgotten so much. I've already forgotten too much.

So I sit down at my computer and go through the hundreds of photos I took. I ooh and aah. I moan and groan. I flip through my journal and read the entries written on the same day of the week on which I am doing my reminiscing. I nod and smile. I sit back in my chair, close my eyes, and conjure up the details of those captured moments.

I remember the glint of the sun on the stone, the shadows in the archways, the sound of the rain pelting the rooftops. I remember the smell of the books in the library, the smell of the candles in the chapel, the slap-slap-slap of flip flops on stone floors, and the thud-thud-thud of footfalls on staircases. I remember the quiet sobs of others in prayer. I remember the graceful dance of getting our food in silence.

I remember trying so hard to not take notes during the daily liturgy, and finally, joyfully, giving in to my urge to write and listenig to the scratching of my Uniball Vision Elite against the brown paper of my unbleached journal pages. I remember lying in bed and staring out the window at the stained glass windows of the chapel. I remember walking, praying, taking photos, wishing I could tell someone what I was hearing and learning and then rejoicing that I could bask in the joy of a faith rekindled all by myself. I remember falling asleep and waking up to the steady hum of birdsong, cicadas chirping, and the whir of the desk fan. Who knew that not having air conditioning would mean I would hear the sounds of nature in a way I hadn't in years? I've forgotten so much, but what I remember gladdens my heart. 

What I remember still moves me to tears. Still drives me to my knees. Still reminds me that God is everywhere - as much here in Charlotte as in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. As much in the midst of my bad decisions, my relentless yearnings, my increasing discontent with so many things I see happening both around me and within me. I remember inexpressible joy, unsurpassable peace, and unconditional love. What I remember is that I can return to that silence and solitude in the midst of the busyness and noise and distractions and demands of my real life. I can return to the photos, the journal pages, and to my most cherished memories.

What I remember reminds me that all is well, all is well, all manner of thing shall be well.

Another thing I just remembered...

Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I struggle with the contradictions between who I long to be and who I am, between the things I say and  believe and the things I actually do and don't do. What I'm learning along the way is that contradictions are inherent in all of life, in all our lives, all life long. At the same time that I pondered and wrote page after page about my thoughts and beliefs, faith and doubts, convictions and contradictions during my week away, I also marinated in the wisdom of Anthony DeMello's writings. In one of his books, he tells the story of a young man approaching a "master" - a guide towards wisdom - and asking about the challenges inherent in the life-long walk of faith and wisdom-seeking. The master's answer applies to my deep battle with contradictions as well.

Master: Are you prepared to be ridiculed, ignored, and starving until you are 45?
Student: What will happen after I'm 45?
Master: You will have grown accustomed to it.

Right on schedule, I am 45 and am growing increasingly accustomed to my contradictions.
I'm finally learning to welcome and embrace them.

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