I had no idea it was happening until I was driving home. Sometimes when I make discoveries like this I fear that I am the only person on the planet who hasn’t caught on yet, that I am describing something everyone else already knows, that when I say it people are marveling that I am just now discovering something so obvious. I am, of course, the last of the people I know to have figured out that the name of my favorite Coffee Shop, PT’s, has my initials as its name.
Here is the deal. I was driving home yesterday from Oklahoma City after preaching at one of the 50th Anniversary Celebration events of the Congregation I served there (actually in Bethany). It was a great weekend. I stayed with some folks who were very important to me in that ministry. Dad, Mom and two young children started attending during my years there and soon immersed themselves in the life of the congregation. We toured Oklahoma City Saturday afternoon, a place that has emerged as a vibrant, thriving city drawing people to a downtown area filled with venues for entertainment and sports (including a section of river re-shaped and now lined with boat houses for College and Olympic rowing). There is a River walk that easily rivals that of San Antonio – new Art Gallery and Library, shining new buildings, one very impressive 52 story wonder.
The worship service was filled with people, most of whom I had come to know well in the nine years I served as Pastor there. Some had returned from other places to which they had moved since I left over sixteen years ago.
The time before and after the service as well as the dinner afterward provided opportunity to talk and renew acquaintances. It is the third time I have been back since Mary Ann died. I had not been back before that for almost fifteen years (other than a quick trip to do the funeral of the Pastor who had preceded me in that parish). I celebrated the good memories, the relationships we enjoyed. Before leaving town to return home I was able to attend the wedding of one of the children I watched grow up, part of the High School Youth group when I left in 1996. That was such a treat.
As I was driving home, listening to the sort of music that tends to help me settle into a more perceptive level of thinking, it dawned on me that what I had logged in my mental files as the past, had been transformed into the present. They are no longer people from my past. They now occupy space in the present. The relationships are present relationships. I don’t exactly know why that seems like such a dramatic discovery, but it does. I like how it feels. Maybe part of it is that it validates the importance and the quality of those past experiences that have been filed away, the past relationships.
At my age there is a need to validate the past, to log it as having had value. It has been particularly helpful to have electronic or personal interactions with people from the past who have been important to me. When there have been kind words suggesting that my place in their lives also had value, those words have had a validating effect on that history. The bonus is that sometimes those interactions seem to transform the past into something that has a current presence.
Current circumstances seem to have broken me open so that I am better able to discern pieces of life that remained outside my ability to see them before the break. Up until then the central focus of my life provided all that my senses could take in. As Parker Palmer observed (I have shared this before), sometimes our hearts need to be broken open before we can really grow (my paraphrase).