Posts Tagged ‘memories

05
Sep
19

The man on the bench

Man on a benchI almost missed him, and thereby, his invitation.

The low, one-story building came slowly into view on the left as we drove through Hays, Kansas earlier this week. The building was made of red brick with a corrugated metal roof. It seemed to branch in several directions from a central hub.

I discovered that when it is your turn to sit in the passenger seat during a nine-hour drive, you have a chance to examine the roadside vista in great detail…

… especially when you are crossing the state of Kansas at 78 miles per hour.

I had just about concluded that I was looking at another collection of storage sheds, or a warehouse of some kind when suddenly I saw him; the man on the bench.

Looking a little more closely, I saw that the bench sat on a patio at the rear of one of those brick buildings. As I studied him, I saw that the man seemed to be older… quite possibly in his 80s. He was wearing a gray, long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. He sat motionless on that bench, content to watch the cars zipping by on Interstate 70 at 2:30 on a late August afternoon.

And then it dawned on me… the building was a retirement home. The man was just doing as he darned well pleased, in between the scheduled mealtimes and organized activities there.

As Hank (the name I gave him on the spur of the moment, just to make him a little less anonymous) faded into the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder.

– What was Hank thinking about as he sat there?

  • Was he reviewing the chapters of his life and cherishing sweet memories?
  • Was he grieving a departed spouse?
  • Was he nursing regrets about opportunities unrealized in his life?
  • Was he silently chastising children whose visits have become less and less frequent as the years pass?
  • Was he trying to imagine what compelled the drivers of each of those cars on the interstate to pass by his patio and bench?
  • Or was he possibly just whistling a tune from his childhood that somehow resurfaced in his mind?

And as he sat there and quietly reflected on his life and the passing parade, Hank issued me a personal invitation.

He invited me to imagine myself, years hence, in a similar posture.

He invited me to consider how I want to be able to look back on my own life when I have plenty of time to sit and think.

Hank invited me to consider the very real possibility that time spent on a bench, alone with one’s thoughts and memories can, in fact, be a surprisingly opulent gift.

He invited me to drop to my knees and give thanks for the rich web of relationships I am part of, remembering that each of them is time-bound and treasured.

But mostly Hank invited me to remember that my story is part of a larger story… a story that is connected to millions of other stories across time and space. He invited me to make friends with the Mystery Beyond and to recognize that he and I have much more in common than either of us will ever realize.

Thanks, Hank.

I accept your invitation.

10
Dec
18

Chex Mixed

Chex cerealLast week we had some friends over.

No big deal… it was just a friendly gathering to eat food, catch up on each other’s lives, and share a laugh or two. Or three, if needed.

As good guests often do, these brought an appetizer to share.

They brought CHEX MIX.

Do you know Chex Mix? It is a delightful, savory combination of the three kinds of Chex cereals (wheat, corn, and rice) with little pretzel bits, nuts, and other assorted nibbles. It is then coated all over with some kind of butter and garlic drizzle and tossed in a bowl.

Delicious!

As I helped myself to my second serving of Chex Mix I could not restrain the memories it evoked.

Growing up, my grandfather worked for the Ralston Purina Company in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to making Purina Dog Chow, Ralston Purina is also the producer of Chex cereals. And so boxes of Wheat, Corn, and Rice Chex always occupied a place of honor in our family’s pantry.

With enough sugar and milk I could work with Corn and Rice Chex. But in an outrageous act of family treason, I now admit that I absolutely detested Wheat Chex.

BLECH, as Charlie Brown used to say.

My personal preferences, however, never stopped dad from buying all three flavors of Chex. But I knew that ignoring the Wheat Chex and just eating the other two was never a solution. Dad would simply refuse to restock any Chex cereals until ALL Chex cereals – including that ever-so-nasty Wheat Chex – were gone.

And so, as I stood there in my kitchen in 2018 casually popping a handful of Chex Mix into my mouth, it inevitably brought scenes of my grandparent’s kitchen in 1960s St. Louis to mind.

I suddenly remembered their parakeet Billy and all the little phrases he used to say. (“Billy go sleep now.” “Hello!” “Pretty bird!”). I thought about the warm smells of baking bread and the small, carefully manicured front lawn. I thought about the box of wooden matches sitting there on top of the toilet tank… only to be lit when the air needed a little purifying.

I was surprised, though, to discover other, less genial memories crowding in on my moment of reverie. I remembered growing up that I usually poured milk made from a powder/water mixture over my Chex cereal. That was because milk from a bottle was too expensive for our family.

I remembered other times of “doing without” and uncertainty from my childhood.

Chewing my Chex also caused me to think about my dad’s memories of the emotional distance between him and his father. He often expressed a hope that he and I would become much closer as father and son.

I was seriously taken aback. “Is that how this is supposed to work?” I wondered. “Shouldn’t my nostalgic recollections only be sweet, special, and Hallmark-colored?”

“What’s up with this other, dark, brooding stuff crowding its way in?”

But I had to confess that this little detour was a good reminder.

It helped me remember that when Jesus described his mission as bringing the world “… life abundantly” (John 10:10, NRSV), he did NOT say that he came to bring only an abundance of pre-sweetened Corn Chex.

It helped me remember that authentic abundance means a rich supply of ALL life’s flavors… the bitter, the sweet, the tangy, and the sour.

It also helped me remember that we are called to give thanks for that abundance… remembering that God’s love for us and our connection to God is the real sweetener in our bowl.

So at the next Christmas party, we happen to attend, I will be the guy making a beeline for the bowl of Chex Mix… and giving thanks for each of its abundant morsels.

Even the Wheat ones.




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