Keeping the Past Right Here

A recent funeral I officiated at had us listening to Sarah Mclachlan’s “I Will Remember You“. Grieving families want to hang on to the memories of the people they have loved.

Veterans Day – Don’t Forget. The people, the sacrifices, the suffering, the dying for the freedoms we enjoy.

How important is history? How much of the past do we need to hang on to in order to live meaningfully in the present and the future? How important is memory?

As a friend of mine worked with me to take a kitchen floor back to the original hard wood, we tore off the top layer – a floating floor made of laminate. Beneath that was the linoleum that had been put down sometime in the 1950’s, or so we estimate. We had to wrestle the black adhesive paper and glue off the floor and it seemed like it would take forever.

As we removed the top layer it suddenly occurred to us that in order to get back to the original, we were destroying the evidence and the story of more recent generations. This is kind of a reversal for me. I usually find myself compromising the “old” as I push forward into the future. But here I found myself dissing the present while honoring the past. It all got me to thinking about how to be current while remaining both respectful of the past and malleable  heading into the future. Is it possible?

Can we live our lives with a kind of transparency that allows us to see where we have been without putting the past on a pedestal? There isn’t much that is transparent about linoleum. Like a coat of thick paint, some things are designed so as to hide whatever it is that is beneath them. Wood is more porous when it comes to providing firm footing for now while holding the story of the past for all to see. As I peel back the paint from hallway steps or rip off the mid-20th century flooring – or discover that closet that is within the closet (a story for another time …), I think I’m learning something not only about various flooring materials; I’m learning a life lesson. Like the trees from which they came, the old floor boards hold on to us and continue to tell our story even as they provide a kind of spring for our step into the future. Like a kind of domestic battle field, the floor boards share the story of the joy and pain, the hope and the frustration, the spilled milk and the places where people took their stand – never putting any of it on that “pedestal”, but inviting us to remember then and live now. The tree cut down sprouts new life from deep within.

To the veterans – thank you. To all who manage to walk the fragile path between the horrors of yesterday and the hopes for tomorrow, let there be places that embrace the memories even as they birth new promises. And I have to admit that, as a Christian, wood has a particular hold on me, reminding me of all our human imperfections even as it assures me of the incredible abundance and presence of grace.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.