Tuesday, June 8, 2010

reunions and reflections on tarnish

i’m on my way back home from dallas…the final foray into processing my mom’s estate is over.  it has been 6 months since her death; time to clean up the house and get it ready to put on the market. 

so much stuff to sift and sort…there’s the usual paperwork, of course.  lots of clutter to rummage thru and toss.  and then there’s those reunions with things that evoke poignant memories: the cheap aluminum sugar bowl i remember seeing on the table breakfast-after-breakfast from my earliest days in that house; christmas records i used to listen to as i watched the colored lights reflecting off the gaudy aluminum christmas tree…yeah, we had one of those…it was painfully smaller than the one the what’s-their-names down the street had.

there have also been some surprises, like finding a copy of the Dallas Times Herald dated Nov 22, 1963; the hand-made guest book my parents had at their wedding – all those years i’d been snooping thru their drawers and closets and i’d never run across that!   and baby clothes my mom had saved along with a note thanking God for the joy her children had given her.  that one was particularly hard.

i rediscovered artwork i hadn’t seen since high school, and as i looked at it, people, places and circumstances that attended its creation bubbled back to the surface of my consciousness.   it was the catalyst for a thought: i’d “abandoned” lots of stuff at my mom’s over the years, but as long as my mom’s house remained my mom’s house, this was a place where my orphaned possessions could nevertheless “live”.  there was the gracious side-effect that i could come back periodically, reconnect with my roots, stir the pots of memories and let them simmer on the back burner of my mind.  and this i have done for the past 3 decades.

but this time it was different.  clearly most of this art work was too big to take back, and even if we could, there’d be no place in our home where we could absorb it.  and so the reality dawns that now is truly the time when the-fate-of-X is finally decided; sheep and goats, wheat and tares, good fish-bad fish.  i now must choose to never see some things again, to close the door to potential future reunions and intentionally relinquish chunks of my life into the arms of a different era.  sigh. 

the house is now empty; carpets have been ripped up; the spider webs are off the walls; the rusty old revolving clothes line has been officially put in the trash.  but a few things have survived the cut. 
among the things i brought back with me were some silver serving utensils, gifts to my parents for their 25th wedding anniversary from some now-forgotten, unrecoverable giver.

smudges, brown and black spots, an ugly film covering the entire surface, such that i could barely detect my own reflection on the back of the spoon.  not a very good likeness of me, but a fairly accurate picture of the way i sometimes reflect God:  a hazy, confused image on what should be a smooth, polished surface.

the tarnish may obscure the reflection, but interestingly it’s the presence of the tarnish that announces the identity of the underlying metal.  stainless steel maintains its luster… and is worth considerably less.  so naturally, when i paw thru the kitchen cabinets and come across the cutlery, it’s the dirty filmy “ugly” pieces ones i pick out to save because they are more valuable.

there are probably ways to keep silver from tarnishing…i think you can wrap it up in zip lock bags and keep it away from the air.  i suppose there may be value in suffocating your silverware if its primary purpose is for display.  but if it’s going to be used, it will get dirty.   just like us…when God puts us in contact with life, he runs the risk that we will come away smudged and dark and dingy.   fortunately tarnish can be polished off.  but it takes special cleaners.  and work.   and in my case, blood.  and sweat.  and tears.

i’m glad it can be removed, being the tarnish bearer that i am.  i know there will be a day when my luster will be restored like new…and it will be that way forever.

till that day the firm, mighty, and merciful hand of God will continue to scrub and polish me with the precious blood of Christ. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“fine, thank you. and you?”

it’s no profound observation that the "how are you?" question is often not really a request for an update on someone’s status. for that we have facebook and twitter, where every fleeting thought, however trivial, can be presented to the world as “breaking news”. as a language guy, i accept the fact that “how are you?” functions largely as verbiage that greases the social machinery. and so "fine" is an acceptable answer; contact with another has been made, their presence has been acknowledged, even if only in cursory fashion.
well, yeah, i’m a linguist, but i’m also one of those the-glass-is-half-empty people. so it’s no wonder that i’ve come to believe that “fine” is really just superficial, and that a truly “authentic” answer to “how are you?” consists of something more along the lines of:
"do you really want to know?"
"hmmmm…could be better."
“don’t ask!”
the desire for “authenticity” results in me adopting a “Saint Eyore” persona and perpetually presenting myself as being “under the pile” of life. left unchecked, my own particular brand of “breaking news” can be a real downer.
so i was thinking about this yesterday and came to a realization:

i surrendered to Jesus on 23 sep 1971. today it will be 14068 days since that event.
14068 sunrises; 14068 mornings that his mercies have been new.
14068 days with their own arrays of anxieties that i’ve worried over; 14068 days of worries that God has taken care of and been faithful to me in.
14068 days, not one of which has passed without either sweet, bland or bitter awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence with me; 14068 days in which God has never dismissed me.
14068 days of exposure to his Word thru book or sermon or memory or gracious face of his family.
during each of these 14068 days i've sinned against God and man at least 7 times; and in each of these 14068 days i've received forgiveness for those sins 7 times over and then some.
the transitory up-and-mostly-down blips of my emotional condition pale in comparison to God’s goodness to me over the long haul. as much as i might like to believe it, i’m really NOT in the cross-hairs of life. quite the contrary.
so then, “how am i?” hmmm…now that i think about it, very fine, thank you. and you?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

relevance theory and lingering effects

not long ago when we were returning to CA on a flight from dallas, i had occasion to observe a rather surly flight attendant who could have been the “poster child for relevance theory” in that she said nothing more than was absolutely necessary to point her audience in the direction of her intended meaning. i had already noticed a couple of things: her curt manner, and how she narrowed her eyes and stretched the corners of her mouth into a smile-like configuration…the result was not unlike the picture of a possum i saw when i was in elementary school perusing an encyclopedia article on “rodents”.

anyway, the beverage service was about to start, and with service cart in tow towards the designated starting position at the front of “coach”, she backed up the aisle, casting cold glances behind her, announcing to the passengers “arms and legs…arms and legs…arms and legs…” obviously a warning to her audience to keep their extremities out of the aisle, as she would be only too happy to collide with them if they didn’t. (i, fortunately, was sitting by the window, so i was out of target range.) then the “service” started; she came back pushing her cart down the aisle stating “something to drink” without the slightest hint of question intonation in the vicinity. now circumstance and experience normally sanction a passenger’s ready assumption that such an utterance constitutes an “offer”, and therefore s/he could justifiably supply implied information along the lines of:
[would you like] something to drink[?] 
[can i offer you] something to drink [?].
of course on this particular occasion, i felt they could also be equally justified by filling it in as:
[you’re lucky if i give you] something to drink[!]

she eventually came to our row and a “something to drink” was directed first at me…
me:             “I’ll have a diet coke.”
Flight Attendant: [blink]
[eyes move in melanie’s direction]
melanie:      “Do you have cranberry juice?”
FA:              [single nod]
…then to “arms and legs” sitting by the aisle.
A & L:        “Orange juice.”
FA: [take plastic cup, scoop ice, open can, pour, extend hand in direction of window]
[take second cup, more ice, another can, pour, extend hand towards middle seat]
[repeat process, relinquish 3rd cup]
[push cart forward while directing withering look at next row of obstacles to inflight contentment]

sigh.  you never know the effect you may unintentionally have on someone. outside of our being a nameless collection of faces with irritating requests, just like those she sees every other day, she will likely have no particularly salient memory of the passengers she “served” that day. she will certainly not remember me, the diet coke in 16A. melanie and i, however, will remember her for a looooong time.