A Remembrance of Things Past

On my recent visit to Little Rock, Arkansas, I visited Little Rock Central High School, where nine African American students enrolled in 1957 after the federal government made segregation in public schools illegal. 

Their enrollment was followed by what became known as the Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas.

I stood on the quiet residential street in front of the high school--a street marked by carefully manicured lawns, beautiful flower beds, and filled with the sounds of birds in the trees that lined the sidewalks. 

In 1957, those same streets had been filled with news cameras, reporters, and scores of angry white Arkansans protesting.  But on the day of my visit, all was quiet.  

I  made my way to a park across the street from the school and sat down on a bench to take everything in, to think, and to pray.  Suddenly, I found myself overwhelmed by the smell of the newly cut grass, mixed with the heavy summer morning air.  

In an instant, I was taken back to my childhood, and the summers I would spend with my mom and her family in Greenville, SC.  It was the very same smell that I had smelled so often then.  I closed my eyes and let the memories wash over me. 

I could see my aunts and uncles sitting in their lawn chairs, sipping iced tea and watching as my cousins and I chased fireflies.  Almost all of them are gone now, but at that moment, in my own memory, they were young, alive, and smiling.  

In my memory, I ran in the gathering gloom of evening, my lungs filled with that humid, grass-scented air.  My heart was filled with joy.  The world was so good and true and beautiful to me. 

Then I opened my eyes and looked around me, and realized all of it was still true--the world is still good, and true and beautiful to me in so many ways, in spite of everything. 

I recently read a line from Wordsworth's poem "Tintern Alley" that spoke to me:  

With an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, / We see into the life of things.

As I  sat there on that bench in the park, I  realized some important things.  All of the best things in life last forever.  We hide the memories of them beneath all of our cares and worries, but they are there just waiting to be released again, and again.  

I also realized that God is often hiding playfully in plain sight, and often in the very places where things have happened we would like to forget.  As much as places hold the memories of trauma and sorrow (in my opinion), they also hold the memories of triumph and joy.  

Mary Oliver once wrote: 
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have these two
housed as they are in the same body. 
There is also something else that I learned as I sat there in front of Little Rock Central High School on a beautiful summer morning in July... 

The places and spaces of remembrance are all around us right where we are.  We don't have to travel to find them.  We just have to be ready to remember and to discover the presence of a God who wants to be found.  

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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