Monday, March 15, 2010

Before memory

When I was about a year old, the story goes, the family was visiting some friends when I wandered out into the back of their yard and sat on a box.  That box, it turned out, was a bee-hive, and my sitting on it did not, apparently, sit well with them.  I was stung multiple times, causing--my parents always believed--the allergic reaction I've suffered from such stings ever since, meaning not bad enough to kill me, but significant enough to greatly affect my life (both physically--a whole swollen leg from one small sting will do that; and mentally--abject fear will do that as well!).  I do not remember one thing about this singular event in my life, but I certainly remember the result, and perhaps the fear as well.  Perhaps my fear was also handed to me, along with that allergy, like too much bee-juice in my blood stream, from my own fear that day, and my mother's fear, and perhaps the fear of all the other adults as well.

When my sister, the Dump, was six months old, her legs were put in a splint for some reason I no longer remember, keeping her legs at right angles from each other.  Something about her hips being out of alignment, like she was an old Buick before she'd even had a hundred miles put on her.  That splint, or cast, stayed on her legs for a year, keeping her from learning to walk at the age when most children do.  Apparently she sort of managed to walk in something of an L-shaped lope, if she held on to something or someone, but with her legs splayed so, a normal gait was impossible.  However, the day that splint was removed from her legs, the story goes, my sister stood up and walked.  She doesn't remember a single thing about this, of course.  Not the splint, not the inability to walk, not the learning to.  She'd actually learned something even without doing it.  All she needed was the opportunity to move.

My older brother was born while my father was out at sea.  My mother, along with her parents, were settled in a navy town, in a larger city, awaiting the baby, awaiting my father's return.  The baby came first.  Early.  Word came to my father across the globe, over in the Orient, I think.  R was six weeks old when he met his dad.  When Dad came off the ship and saw my mother, he barely glanced at her, kissed her perhaps even perfunctorially, according to our family lore, before taking his son--his namesake--into his arms for a good long drink of look and love.  It was the most important meeting of my brother's life (well, almost) and happened six weeks after his birth, but well before memory.  I have it in my head, though this might just be poetic license, that my brother smiled for the first time that day.  He should have, don't you think? 

But all these things happened before memories began. These things--for good or evil--that happened to change our lives.  There are some people in this world who are disinclined to believe in the lineage of bad that goes back to the garden, but my own garden story, which I do not remember, is a metaphor for how the garden story that has infected me, us, the whole human race.  Eve and Adam made choices in a garden and we've been with the choices ever since.  And my sister's story, also before her memory, is such a picture of the gospel stories of healing.  Yes, yes, I know, also fully 20th century.  But I can picture the small, chubby (and my sister was quite the roly-poly toddler) little girl suddenly free from her chains (or casts) rising and walking.

And then there is the story of my brother meeting his daddy.  Meeting the one who'd given him life.  The most important moment in his young life, right in all those men.  My dad drug my mom, my brother, my grandparents all over the ship that day, introducing him--"this is my son...oh, and this is my wife, and in-laws".  My dad loved his wife.  Liked his in-laws well enough, even at that early stage. But oh, his son.  "This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased."  Can't you just hear it? 

Yes, this story of my brother does have the ring of that story on another waterfront.  God introducing His Son to all and sundry.  "This is my Son."  As proud as my Daddy that day on the ship.  But more, of course.  Also knowing who Jesus was, what He'd say, what He'd do.  "Listen to Him," God said that day at the river.  But still, a pleased-as-punch dad.

But this picture of R meeting Dad is also every one of our stories. He met his dad one specific day in March, probably just about today, 54 years ago.  Well before he remembered.  The most important thing that happened in his life.  Hmm.  The most important thing that happened in R's life didn't happen 54 years ago today, but probably more like 2014 years ago today, give or take a day, or year.

That's the likely day that God's only begotten Son was actually born in Bethlehem.  March.  Maybe April.  4 BC. Probably.  Before memory.  But whatever you're doing today, maybe take a moment and think of that.  That this--THIS--is the day not only that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made for you. Before memory, He was making it for you.  In that manger in Bethlehem lay the most significant person you'll ever meet. 

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