A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, February 2021

A stream of consciousness while washing dishes:

Staring out the window at the dark outline of treetops, black against a deeply purple sky. It appears to be later in the evening than it is. I try to guess the time, resisting the urge to turn around and confirm with the oven’s small digital clock display behind me.

My daughter grabs my legs. She has snuck up silently to scare me. She laughs. I breathe. She is supposed to be upstairs getting ready for bed. I decide I have just enough patience left to be a good sport for at least a minute or two while I finish the dishes. I start singing an old Motown song as she hangs on my legs. Instantly, I feel happier. This is actually a much more fun way to complete the daily dreaded task of dishes. Wonder (hope): will this be the type of memory my little girl will recall when she’s in her old age?

Suddenly a vivid memory of my college friend comes to mind. It’s a snapshot of her quietly washing dishes like a real, capable adult when a gaggle of us visited her years (decades?) ago. There was laughter and singing all around, but stolidly she stood in front of the sink by herself, dutifully washing each dish with care. Why do I remember that quick, wordless scene? Her neatly manicured fingers brushing the bubbles off a white plate under the water’s steady stream. Wonder if her sons now marvel over her adept skills in the midst of their own chaos. Wonder if they can tell they have the type of mom who has always been a capable adult, even when she was still a teenager. Wonder if my children can tell that I am still trying to figure out how to be an adult, or that I still sometimes associate more with the teenager that I once was… We are all so different, aren’t we?

Now my little Poppy is singing, too. The weight of her pulling against my legs is starting to bother my knee. Try to remember if I have any memories of my parents washing dishes. Did I ever hang on their legs? Lots of memories pop up of my dad cooking pancakes and singing… “I used to cook pancakes for the Queen!” he would exclaim each time, turning up the clock radio under the cabinets, tuned to an oldies station playing Motown songs. I can clearly envision my mom’s back as she tended to the stove, stirring Brunswick stew with the serious concentration of a pioneer woman preparing a meal.

Strangely, however, no moments register of anyone in my childhood home undertaking the mundane task of washing dishes. I start sorting through memories a little more intently now as if I am holding up film negatives to the light. I cannot even recall anyone in my family at the sink…

Full stop.

Cannot remember my childhood sink. At all.

The sink from which I surely retrieved countless glasses of water from ages 4 to 19. Now I cannot even determine where the sink was positioned in our old kitchen. Okay, think I see the corner now where it was located… but can I imagine the faucet or handles? Or see myself or my parents rinsing a bowl to put in the dishwasher? Only through a dimly lit haze. Slowly I start seeing my mom rinsing peanut butter from a rounded knife and bending to place it in the plastic aqua silverware holster of our dishwasher, but recalling this scene took tremendous mental exertion.

My son is now standing next to me, looking puzzled (or amused?) at my far-off trance as the water continues to flow over the remaining dishes. He wants to know all about my train of thought– Vaughan always wants all the details —  and so I tell him every bit as we walk upstairs together with his sister for bedtime. “My brain does that, too,” he confides once we are alone. “I start thinking about one thing, and then it’s kinda like I am somewhere else in my head thinking and remembering.” Maybe we are not all so different, after all.

I go to bed that night pondering this:

A lot of life happens in the small details of our everyday life, both in the physicality of our movement through each day, and also internally within our own minds. Perhaps remembering the minutia or acknowledging our streams of consciousness is not vital to a life well-lived, though I cannot help but marvel over the illumination that occurs when we hover over the seemingly unremarkable aspects of our thoughts and memories. What remains? What can we, with effort, retrieve or unlock or hold up to the light? And what hidden images and emotions are tucked into the deep recesses of our memories just beyond our stockroom of fully formed stories that we recall from our past?

Can you return to your childhood kitchen in your mind? Can you see any of the details that perhaps you haven’t thought of in quite a while? Do any new moments or memories resurface? Do certain recollections, that have no immediately apparent significance, continue to bubble up? What messages can you glean from them when you pause to consider their offerings? And how does one memory or thought lead to the next if you take the time to tune in and track them?

The notion of these unspoken inner-lives we lead has been at the forefront of my own thoughts this week in particular. One of my best friends has been slowly losing her mother to Alzheimer’s for years, and it seems as though the bittersweet release is now within sight. It is awe-inspiring and excruciating to witness. The memories, the words, the richly beautiful life she lived… all slipping away like sand through a sieve. The pain of this slow and staggered loss breaks my heart for my dear friend. And it also reminds me to remember that remembering is a gift (if you’ll forgive the ridiculous redundancy of that sentence). Even if the memories we recall are painful or confounding or dull, there are insights wrapped up inside each of them. Even if our thoughts wander aimlessly, there is still something remarkable about being able to keep ourselves company through our wildly active minds.

I secretly hope that my children are as hopelessly nostalgic as I am. I hope that they will feel connected to these fleeting years we shared under the same roof, beside the same kitchen sink, even when my memory begins to fade and especially when I am gone. After all, our minds and memories, both miraculous gifts from God, have the power to connect us to others through space and time. Years have passed since I have been in the presence of some of the people and places I treasure, yet God grants me access to revisit and delight in them through my thinking of them.

Thank you, God, for the rich soil you grant us in our innermost thoughts and memories. And thank you for the moments when you remind me that I have a role in creating loving memories for my children that may, with hope and grace, counterbalance the painful ones that will inevitably occur along the way. And mostly, please help draw our thoughts back to You, remembering always that You have been with us all along, at work even in the mundane details, and loving us all the while.

Amen.

Comments

  1. Tom McDonald says

    A beautifully written story from childhood. Not only a lovely story but very well crafted. Starting to bring back my childhood memories. Thank you for sharing.

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