We spent last week in Hobbs packing boxes. My parents moved to Midland in order to keep a closer eye on us, and somehow they also convinced us to pack about 1,000 boxes. It may’ve been one of those Tom-Sawyer-painting-the-fence moments.
Cyndi and Tanya and Patti, a packing swat team if ever, went over and packed kitchen gear on Wednesday, and I went over Friday and Saturday to pack and make two U-Haul runs to Midland. By Saturday night Mom & Dad were in their new house, and before you knew it they were happily watching The Glen Miller Story on DVD in their new living room.
Our family hasn’t moved a lot compared to some. Well, my brother reminds me he’s moved every couple of years for the last thirty years, but that is the way of younger brothers. The rest of us, we tend to stay in one place too long. And I say too long because unless you move occasionally you never filter your possessions and they accumulate beyond imagination. Cyndi and I discovered that three years ago when we moved from a house where we’d lived for 26 years. Mom and Dad’s move is about the same sort of thing except with the added benefit of 56 years of marriage. And, unlike us, they moved into less space, not more. Some major filtering had to take place.
Of course, moving is more than boxing belongings. It is about moving lives, about moving connections (some of them decades old), and maybe most of all, it is about moving stories. The stories we tell over and over, the stories we keep in our heart, the stories we cherish to remember people we love, and the stories that define us. All of those stories are permanently linked to the artifacts we keep around us in our home. So when it comes time to move, it is a process of editing and filtering stories, not just thinning the load. It is never a small thing. As we used to say in math class, it is a nontrivial process.
And what I learned while packing boxes was that many of those artifacts hold my own stories. For example, I brought back a 5” plaster cast of my own handprint, made when I was four years old. I don’t remember many stories from when I was four, but I remember making those plaster handprints every summer when I visited my grandparents. I have memories of them hanging on the walls of several houses I grew up in, a tangible marker of a young boy growing up with larger and larger hands.
I also found three slender glasses from my college days, each bearing the inscription “Pride of Oklahoma.” They were mementoes from the annual banquet of the OU marching band, where I played trombone. One of them had a tuft of turf grass I pulled from the field at the Orange Bowl back in 1977 (which OU lost to Arkansas, of all things). Just seeing those glasses and that piece of dried up grass sent me down a long path of storytelling from a deeply formative, enriching, time in my life.
And those were just my stories. All the boxes now stacked in my garage (since the new house didn’t have room for everything) hold stories that belong to my parents. Deciding how to handle them is not a small task. I will take my time going through them, even if it means I’ll be parking my pickup out front a little longer.
One day this week at lunch, while eating chicken fajitas and reading from my Daily Bible, I was reminded how the pages in my bible are one of my story repositories. I write in the margin whenever a significant event occurs, which means I get reminded of the stories and people every year when I read that entry again. If George Smiley ever decided to investigate my life he could piece together a very good timeline just from the margin notes in that Bible.
Sunday morning in our adult Bible study class we discussed the Christmas story, and the many methods we use to tell it. We sing it, paint it, dramatize it, portray it in live nativities, read it, complain about it when someone uses phraseology we don’t like, light up our houses for it. We go to great lengths to tell the story of Jesus using as many media as possible. Why? Because we hope those who’ve never heard the story will open their heart to hear it this year. And we hope those of us who’ve heard the story so often we hardly listen will open our hearts again as if to hear it for the first time.
And now that I am a grandfather with plans to spend the majority of my Christmas weekend in the company of my stunning little granddaughter, the notion of passing along stories seems even more important.
Our lives are stories, and passing along those important stories give our lives value and depth. May this Christmas be a rich storytelling session for you and your family. May it remind you who you really are, and whose you really are.
Merry Christmas. Tell the story.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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