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Monday, September 12, 2011

Looking Back and Looking Deep

"Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer", says Frederick Buechner. "It's a looking deep into another kind of time altogether."

I have recently spent a fair amount of time on buses, in particular, traveling the three hour journey up and down the road between Canberra and Sydney. As strange as it may sound, I have always loved lengthy trips. Whether it be the six hour bus ride between Montréal and New York, the four hour train trip between Paris and the Hague, or the twenty-four hour plane journey from Australia to Europe, I've never resented these journeys. Much less, I've cherished them.

You might be thinking, "Big deal, I love traveling too. It doesn't mean we all have to blog about it." And you'd be right. But when it comes to these trips, it's not so much the act traveling, but the "being travelled" aspect that I love. It's the passiveness of it, the idea of sedentary movement. In a world in which we so often place ourselves at the centre of things, where being in control is a virtue, we are for once momentarily forced to sit still, while the world moves around us.

I love listening to music as I gaze out the window on these trips, the passing scenery creating my own unique and personal music video. Most of all though, I love the fact that, for the duration of the journey, no one can get to me. When the doors to that bus/train/plane click shut, it signals the start of a period of "time out" from the world.

Perhaps it's the perfect tonic for a restless mind. Normally, any time spent pondering the hows and whys of the way we are is accompanied by a strong sensation of indulgence or idleness, of ignoring things that need doing, practical things with measurable outcomes. But somehow, on these trips, I can escape that feeling. Sitting in my seat, I have permission to stare into space, to reflect without guilt, as if were anyone to challenge me as to what it was that I was doing at that moment, I could confidently answer, "I'm going somewhere."

So its during these trips that I invariably find myself thinking about the past. Thinking back on where I've come from and taking stock of it, and wondering where that past might lead me to. Lately, I've been thinking about certain people who've influenced me along the way - particularly my family, grandparents that have since passed on, teachers I had at school... It's funny how our memories can take on new found importance as we grow older, as if our growing older has unlocked in them, and in us, a hidden level, enabling us to see something from our past as if for the first time.

Frederich Buechner touches on this in his writing. Of course, he puts it more poetically than I ever could.

"How they live on, those giants of our childhood. And how well they take even death in their stride. Because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it's beyond a doubt they live still, in us.

Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer. It's a looking deep into another kind of time altogether, where everything that ever was continues not just to be but to grow and to change with a life that's in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it's as though they come to understand us, and through them we come to understand ourselves in new ways too. Through them, something of the power and goodness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us to this day.

One imagines all of us on this shore, fading for them, as they journey ahead towards whatever new shore awaits them. But it's as if they carry something of us on their way, as we most surely carry something of them on ours. That's perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be, but seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now.

If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too. Nor are they necessarily always the same thing."

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