Saturday, October 20, 2012
Memories That Speak
Memories That Speak
I have letters from my mom and dad. They are in my room, near my bed on the little night stand where I keep my lamp and clock. Mom and dad have passed on. I picked up one letter not too long ago. It was from my mom. It was painful to read. She wrote about the ordinary things that a mom writes to a son – the travels of my sisters and brothers, worries about sick relatives, things she was looking forward to. I can see her in my mind’s eye. I knew were she wrote the letters. She would write at night, at a desk in front of the window in the den of our house in Covington, Louisiana. As time passed, she had to use a machine called a Telesensory device. It had a large screen that enlarged whatever she was working on, be it a book or a letter, or coupons. It was a wonderful machine. I can see her now, leaning close to the screen, moving her hand that held a pen across the flat surface of the machine. I could here her speaking softly each word that she read, as if it was an added pleasure given by the machine. She was gradually losing her sight and the letters I have were from times when she could still write well and legibly. But the last few years of her life were difficult. She became totally blind and I know how much she missed reading and writing. She used a tape player to play recorded books, and that was a big help. She told me often how much she missed looking at my photographs and when my photo books were published I felt the pain she knew when she could not hold the books and look at the pictures.
Dad’s letters were newsy, too. He often apologized to me, telling me that he did not know what to write. But he wrote well, and I told him so to encourage him to keep sending the letters. He, too, wrote about family things, with an occasional foray into church concerns or politics.
I also have many pictures of them. I took them all through the years. Some are posed pictures, especially the ones Dad took when we kids were little. I have them, too. He would gather us on the front lawn for Easter pictures, birthday pictures, confirmation and graduation pictures. I took more “everyday” kinds of pictures, photos of us sitting around the house, doing all the many things that make up ordinary life. I am glad I have them.
The letters and the photographs bring back so many memories.
A friend of mine wrote me a letter that arrived in the mail a few days ago. He writes the end, and if I may quote him, “It is impossible to know how we contribute or influence the Kingdom. Amidst the boredom of moving bonsai plants from A to B, or the tedium of making changes to your tome on grace..it is in the innocence of human behavior that God reveals his mystery.”
Mom and dad wanted to let me know that they loved me and one of those ways was by writing letters to me all through the years. The letters offer a glimpse into their concerns, concerns that were made of the stuff of day to day life. Banal, simple, mundane things – things from which are lives are made and through which small things contribute to the tender majesty and true greatness of any human life. But we never see it when we are given them, when we write about them, and when later in life, when the writers and picture takers are long gone, we are moved to tears at the beautiful wonder of it all.
The letters and the photographs are possessed of a power that lies precisely in their being able to offer a portrait of lives that gave themselves away in love. And a part of that was writing letters and taking pictures.
Such gifts make me wonder how little we know the effect that our words, our lives, have on each other. Looking back, and looking at the pictures and reading the letters, so much grace was pouring through a slowly moving pen, a carefully turned lens. The letters are wonderful, and so are the pictures. I am grateful.
It is Sunday, a few weeks before Christmas. People are writing today and taking pictures. Freshly made tokens of love that will arrive in cards all over the earth. Someday, they will reveal infinitely more than they do at this time. The cards and letters and photos will age with time and will take on a beauty that only time – and God – can give.