I wrote this four years ago and came back to it in my draft folder. The storage unit is not ours anymore since we’ve moved, but the sentiment in this post remains.
Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva
The other day I spent a few hours rummaging through old things. I went into our basement storage unit and opened a few boxes. I’ve avoided those boxes for two years. My last real vist was soon after the boy came along. Since then I’ve stacked and restacked boxes. I’ve thrown out a couple bags. I’ve given books away.
But I needed to look through things. I need to remember. I needed to let some things go.
I do this regularly: letting things go. My wife is the keeper of things. I’m the one who discards the unused. I used to give boxes of books away–after U of I, after Wheaton, and then after Garrett. I am of the mind that books are worth sharing, especially when they’ve given their gifts to you.
Still, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually gone through the articles and stuff of earlier days, since I convinced myself that I didn’t need as many things as I once did. It’s interesting how what we keep can be its own record.
So I waded through things. There are those cards and letters from my college days and there’s something Mr. Everett gave me in high school. I found a picture with a friend from a dance, the program from a wedding, a hand-written letter from my pastor, a note from my niece, and one of the most creative pieces of writing I’ve ever read, which happens to also be one of the most troubling lies I’ve read. That was from a letter written by a friend impersonating a physician when we were in college.
Each one of these things is a little image of me, a small indicator of the routes my life has taken.
I am reading Wendell Berry’s Remembering. A friend quotes some of Berry’s stuff from time to time. A writer suggested him to me a few years ago in a complimentary way. This passage from the novel strikes me. I’m mulling it over; it’s from page 50 of this slim beautifully poetic story. It connects with something I’ve been considering, the choices made before me which, in some ways, made choices for me.
I’ve been thinking of my abilities as a father, as a husband, as a man, and as a son. The abilities and the work, toil, and prayer behind them. I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along, fumbling through a mist, and looking for the best route through these roles. I envy my brothers and friends who wear the wraps of these worlds with apparent comfort or ease, and that’s knowing that the apparent is not always the truth. I love and hate the complexity of my own choices, even the good ones, because those are just as hard as the poor ones. Berry is helping me love and hate with poetry. He’s a skilled writer.
On the verge of his journey, he is thinking about choice and chance, about the disappearance of change into choice, though the choice be as blind as chance. That he is who he is and no one else is the result of a long choosing, chosen and chosen again. He thinks of the long dance of men and women behind him, most of whom he never knew, some he knew, two he yet knows, who, choosing one another, chose him. He thinks of the choices, too, by which he chose himself as he now is. How many choices, how much chance, how much error, how much hope have made that place and people that, in turn, made him? He does not know. He knows that some who might have left chose to stay, and that some who did leave chose to return, and he is one of them. Those choices have formed in time and place the pattern of a membership that chose him, yet left him free until he should choose it, which he did once, and now has done again.