Friday, May 13, 2022

"What has been lost?"


We returned on Saturday, about a week ago, from a lovely road trip with dear friends through parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. In a succession of 75 degree days, the redbud was in bloom everywhere and spring was much more “there” than it was "here" when we returned to the island.

Our travel day at the end of the trip was long.  An hour long drive to the Philly airport; 5 1/2 hours on the train to Boston South Station; a 1 1/2 hour wait for the bus to Woods Hole followed by  1 1/2 hours on the bus and then the final 45 minute leg of the journey on the SS Martha’s Vineyard.  A wintry and foggy wind blew me up hill all the way to where we had parked our car for the week.   When we awoke on Sunday morning, it was clear the week of travel had caught up with us as we crawled toward breakfast in a state of weariness bordering on exhaustion.   We opted for ZOOM for morning worship and then set about unpacking and tending to the accumulated laundry.

Word of advice  - -  in a state of sleep deprivation do not attempt to do any task that requires thoughtful sorting of laundry!!   As I pulled the wet clothing out of the washer, I noticed a strange dark lump in the load.  It turned out to be my husband’s “little black book,”  the most recent iteration of the pocket calendar he has carried in his pocket for more than 60 years.  The significance of this loss will be most real to United Methodist ministers of a certain age who, in another time, before the advent of smart phones, could not live without that small pocket calendar on their person at all times.

45 minutes later, I pulled the laundry from the dryer - and discovered another strange lump,  this time in the pocket of my husband’s jeans.  His wallet was also victim to my sleep-deprived
inattention to detail.  I have joined the ranks of the money launderers!  Also the launderers of drivers’ licenses and family photos and credit cards, all of which we were able to successfully dry out.  

Not so the pocket calendar.  It sits on the kitchen counter, slowly drying, pages stuck together - accusing me every time I look at it.  

Those little pocket calendars, accumulated over 60 years, carry the skeletal bones of our lives.  Meetings, medical appointments, birthdays, deaths, family celebrations, holidays, vacations - a life history of a marriage in “shorthand.”  The loss of even one creates a hole in a store of memories that cannot be refilled, especially as we age.

My thoughts roam to the multitudes of Ukrainian families displaced by war, homes bombed and burned, making rapid departures bringing only what they could carry.  I mourn the loss of one “little black book” - which can probably be reconstructed.  I can’t begin to imagine the grief that colors all of life with the loss of precious family mementos, heirlooms from the past, beloved books, precious toys and security blankets, the sense of place and belonging that come with a stable home in a familiar community.   Even with the aspirational thoughts of making the aggressor pay reparations, there is no way to recover the irreplaceable minutiae that make up the “face” of a community’s or a family’s life.  The losses set in motion a grief that will live far into the future - - into the coming generations who will not be able to leaf through an old family album or enjoy some curious bit of memorabilia passed down through several generations.   The war is stealing the memories of families and communities, the many bits and pieces of their lives, if not their lives themselves, replacing them with trauma.

Last night over dinner our Torah study group discussed “Emor,” the prescribed reading for this week.  It occurs near the end of the Book of Leviticus.  It is full of difficult teachings that are troubling in our day - but something emerged from our discussion.  Albeit, taken out of the context of the prior verses, verses 31-33 of Chapter 22 seemed to leap off the page: I am the Lord.  And you shall keep my commands and do them. I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name, and I shall be hallowed in the midst of you.  I am the Lord Who hallows you, bringing you out of the land of Egypt to be God for you.  I am the Lord.

 As I keep turning these phrases over and over in my mind, I wander back to the early chapters of Genesis where the text affirms that humankind is created in the image of God - b’tzelim elohim.
After much rumbling around, the connections are made. When we “profane” another human being, or another human community, we “profane”the image of God - - our guiding metaphor for holiness. Our own holiness as beings created in a divine image is transgressed - and that transgression tramples on Divine Holiness.

War, in all its forms, profanes the image of God as it destroys human life and the quality of human life.  It tramples Holiness in the dust.   It is unholy.

In a day or two, thanks to Amazon, another “little black book” will arrive in the mail.  It will be tedious, but we will be able to re-construct our immediate history of the last 6 months.  I wonder “What will it take to restore the memories of so many lives when the war has run its devastating course?”  “What will it require of the larger human family to serve so many families who have lost so much?”  “What kinds of memories will replace all that has been lost?”

Vicky Hanjian

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