Whose are these, these fingers, that tamp gently upon my face? Layer after layer of plaster strips softened, gently pressed then smoothed upon the ridges and folds of my cheeks, nose and chin. I hear the quiet comments of one daughter to another saying, Here, and, There, and I relax into another year of camp where the years themselves layer, each upon the other, creating one memory from many memories that I will take to the gates on my death and say, These days, these moments, were the finest of my life.
There is a light I forget to turn off each time I leave the basement. It is as if another lived down there; a person to which I extend a common courtesy. Perhaps in my mind I see them reading a book in my favorite chair in the corner, sitting how my grandfather always sat, right leg crossed over left and the newspaper open on his lap. Perhaps I fail to extinguish the glow from above somehow aware that to do so might shorten the memory lingering in the air.
Some say we remember remembering; memory being so elusive it is easy to forget. I want to remember the current collection of events, emotions, accidents, transactions, coincidences and especially the moment I wrapped my daughters in my arms the last time we were all together. Perhaps not the moment itself. Instead, the sense of my arms around their shoulders, the smiles and familiar chatter of sisters, the play of light creating shadows of ourselves on the ground, the wishes for wellness until next we see each other, not knowing our numbers would never be the same.
stirring leaves of this morning return me to yesterday morning's memories
Rememberer, who writes with a finger of fire on our forgetful hearts, do not depart from us when we no longer look back on the days that are surely coming, for we cannot see what is written there on the hearts of others and, confused, continue to confound remorseful contrition with wounding indifference. Amen.
Recollector, who promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars and the sand, stuck in the middle of posterity, descendants become ancestors, numerous become nameless, today becomes yesterday; as we tread the next step send the named ones to surround us. Amen.
“Wherever I am, you’ll always be
More than just a memory
If I ever leave this world alive”– Flogging Molly
How long does it take to paint a garage?
Answer: Somewhere between five years and what feels like forever.
Given that life – and death – intervened in that span of time maybe five-and-a-half years isn’t all that long.
My daughter, Sydney, having returned home from a school year at Indiana University agreed to take on the project for the summer of 2014. I think I agreed to pay her $10 an hour. The summer before I painted the house proper so I was excited to think that the entire manse at 1358 Maple Avenue would be “Daisy Spell” yellow with white trim by the time Sydney returned to IU for her next school year.
How does the saying begin? “The best of intentions…” Sydney painted one garage door that summer…then returned to school. I think I painted the other garage door that fall. Where Sydney had taken the time to edge around the windows on her door, I did not, preferring the “scrape later” method of edging a window.
The following summer I think I got a coat or two of yellow on the front of the garage. And for the next couple of years that’s how the garage stayed. Yellow and white on the front, though the eaves were still the same grey as the other three sides.
I found some energy to start the 2018 painting season. I finished painting one side and had moved on to the back alley-side. May 25 was a beautiful early summer day. Perfect for painting. I spent the morning going up and down the ladder and progressing across the back of the garage, turning grey into a bright, happy yellow, when sirens started zipping by on Connor Street (one street north of where I live) followed by helicopters and then more sirens heading west across the White River.
My neighbor came out to tell me that there had been a shooting at the West Middle School. Oh, God. Then the sirens and helicopters came back towards me. I went inside to learn that there were active shooters at the high school as well. Good God!
Thankfully, there were no fatalities at West Middle School and the High School shooters turned out to be a prankster’s hoax but the trauma for all those involved was no less.
Two weeks passed. On June 6 I had just cleaned up from an afternoon of painting the garage when I received the telephone call about Sydney in Africa. Twelve hours later I was on a plane heading across the Atlantic.
I never thought that courage and fortitude and deep breaths would be necessary to complete a painting project. (I never would have thought that the same would be needed for my brother to sing “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” at a recent concert his band performed. We have played that song together for years only to have it’s meaning radically altered with Sydney’s death.)
This 2019 Summer I managed to finish painting the garage; actually finished today, September 28, so a bit into the Fall of 2019. I did so in two-hour fits and spurts because two hours is about all I could manage at a time being unable to breathe filled with memory and fear and sadness and loss that had been wrapped around this project.
The garage has been painted.
Sydney, your painting project is complete.
The beauty of the Cherry Blossom Season in Washington, D.C., rivals the season of showy dogwoods and redbuds in Indiana. Bursts of color in stately lines along formal paths or placed here and there between buildings.
Look through the beauty and you see that, as my daughter noted so eloquently, “Every government building needs new windows.” (The windows of the Department of Energy building were particularly awful. Perhaps it should take advantage of a tax break and install new energy-efficient windows?) A great deal of symbolism in the old, broken and inefficient “windows” of Washington.
I am not sure of the state of the windows of the White House as security has extended the buffer zone around the President’s residence. My body chilled to see it and my mind went immediately back to the time I cruised into the port of Leningrad in the late-1970’s. Armed sentries standing stiffly every fifty feet, some carrying heavy automatic weapons, some visible on many rooftops. I know that the physical environment of a people and of a culture, especially in the center of power, reflects the soul of the people.
I am sad. Our soul does not reflect the beauty of the cherry blossoms. I have hope that this winter season of our nation will come to an end with the buds of Spring growth. New political voices are being heard. Our youth sound energetic and bright. Two men walked hand-in-hand on the Washington Mall in the midst of thousands. And thousands and thousands of people, perhaps the majority of people, did not look like me. The chatter of the different dialects of our country and of the countless dialects of countless other languages. I have hope.
My hope for the ascendance – perhaps at some future time in my daughter’s lives the transcendence – of peace and understanding rose so high on seeing the faces of people in the Hall of Remembrance. (The Hall of Remembrance lies at the end of the permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) I saw evidence of a recognition of our common humanity and that hate in any form, virulently physical or spiritual or cultural or the even more dangerous form, apathy, will not prevail.
Walking into the Hall brought me to the edge of tears. Lighted candles. Spare stone. A rose window above. The names of the places on the surrounding walls where human beings practiced the ways of death-dealing.
The Hall of Remembrance Rose Window is a different kind of a window – a response to the windows of power outside it’s walls along Independence Avenue.
I close with the three biblical inscriptions etched into the stone of the Hall with the hope for humanity to re-member Life…
“What have you done? Hark, thy brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! – Genesis 4:10
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” – Deuteronomy 30:19
“Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children, and your children’s children.” – Deuteronomy 4:9
Fifty-four years old. Fifty-four years of being one of the lucky ones to call a particular address “Home.” Fifty-four years of memory…
I was born at 2560 Ridge Avenue in an Evanston Hospital delivery room. I have been told there was a snow event that day. A few days later I took my first car ride south down Ridge Avenue to an apartment building at the corner of Maple Avenue and Noyes Street – right next to the Noyes Station on Chicago’s ‘L’ (Elevated) Purple Line. I don’t remember my first home nor do I remember the sound of the L right outside my bedroom. Development psychologists would say that the sounds reverberating through my first home as L cars went by shaped my sense of wonder and the peace that I feel when I hear a train. (Just this past weekend I waited for sleep lying in my boyhood bed while visiting my brother and heard the sounds of a train whistle and the roll of its wheels in the distance. I fell immediately to sleep.)
A year later I moved (or, rather, was moved by my parents) to my next home on Michigan Avenue on the border of Evanston and Chicago. My first memory comes from my time at this apartment building. It is a very strong memory, probably because it involves four of my five senses: sight, sound, touch and smell. I sat on the stairs between two floors of the apartment building just high enough where I could see through the transom window over the front door of the apartment below. Out of the transom window came light from within, the sounds of a party (laughter and conversation), the smells of cooking (chicken?) while my butt was keenly aware that it was on the hard wood of the steps. I felt intense sadness at being outside while the party went on inside. I felt excluded and uninvited. The laughter that came out the transom seemed directed at me. I remember standing, placing a hand on the wooden railing as I turned to walk up the stairs. End of memory.
Just as trains bring me peace I have no doubt that my dis-ease and discomfort with parties starts with this memory. I am also aware that my strong sense of justice (and injustice), particularly when it comes to inclusion and exclusion, begins on those steps. Is it possible for a two-year-old to form at that early stage of being human a life’s call to purpose and mission where no human being should feel what I felt on those hard steps?
More home addresses followed. Buffalo Grove. Back to Evanston. Arthur, Illinois. Topeka, Kansas. Flossmoor, Illinois. Greencastle, Indiana. Logan Square, Chicago. Indianapolis. Martinsville, Indiana. Irvington, Indiana. Kalamazoo. Back to Irvington. Noblesville, Indiana.
So many memories. Beginning at home on Maple Avenue in Evanston. Continuing at my current home on Maple Avenue in Noblesville. More, I am sure, to come…