So, as I mentioned yesterday, it was the day Cheri and I were to take a trip up to Grafton to see Cheri’s mom. We hadn’t been up for a number of weeks, and when we planned last week, our friendly winter snowstorm blew in and made travel outside of town pretty dangerous. So, the backup plan was for this week, and after a couple of missed starts we were on our way up I-29 through the North Dakota winter lands. I realized, as I set the cruise control at 75 (the speed limit, since I don’t speed!), that I hadn’t driven that fast, or gone out of town since October 30. It kind of reminded me of my cousin Joey, who lived in Omaha. When we were visiting one time, we asked him where he had traveled, since we had been across the country and over to Australia before any of us were 10 years old. Joey simply replied that he had never been outside of Omaha. We were shocked! His family had never taken vacations, and the extent of his life’s experience didn’t even take him across the river to Council Bluffs. I couldn’t imagine it. It wasn’t that we pitied him or anything, but it certainly was a far different life that we even knew.
So, we headed north. It’s always kind of nice to ride with Cheri, where we aren’t distracted by tons of other things that often get in the way. Our conversations are stellar and deep, but they do give us a chance as a married couple to evaluate our life and let the topics float wherever we want, knowing we have two full hours from doorstep to doorstep. Of course, there is always the opportunity to try to school other drivers we encounter about how they could improve their driving skills. You know, I think if I were terribly rich, that I would just employ someone to be our driver, and no longer have to hassle with the particulars of getting from one place to another. I’ll let you know if and when that becomes a reality. Don’t hold your breath.
Well, we made it to Cheri’s mom’s place, and after a few minute of chatting, we were swallowed up into the day’s work. Cheri’s parents moved into town from the farm about four or five years ago, and with the death of Cheri’s dad, her mother made the decision apparently to not move back. That left a house full of “stuff” that had been relatively untouched since 1972 – almost 50 years. Her mom’s mission over the past while has been to somehow clear out the house, give away or dispose of thousands of items, ostensibly so that we won’t have to do it after she was gone.
That’s a fine and noble task, as far as it goes. However, just as if you were given the assignment to write down everything you own or have in your house, most likely pretty soon you would give up, since every “thing” would trigger the remembering of another “thing,” and on and on. Beyond that, the invention of closets created a haven for forgotten and possibly never remembered stuff that when brought out to the light of day, begin to grown and expand and take over rooms and rooms of space.
Our task yesterday was perhaps the most daunting and dangerous of the sorting campaign. Our job was to… look through pictures of the family. I know. Gasp. Now, we had already spent a few different visits going through the black and white galleys of yesteryear, including the blurry and fuzzy photos of grandparents and great-grandparents, and maiden aunts and cousins in black suits and bowler hats. Let me tell you, there are a few choice words that can describe the experience of looking through old family photos of long-dead people that you have never met, that aren’t even part of your biological family. On top of that, there were mixed in about 5000 pictures of people not related to Cheri and her family, but just happened to be saved, and gone along for the ride. The boxes – yes, boxes – of old photos were from both sides of Cheri’s family in history. Imagine spending days of your life, looking at someone else’s relatives that you have never heard of, all the while going through photograph after photograph with your mother-in-law saying, “Hmmm – I’m not sure who this is. It could be your great-aunt Alvina’s cousin when they visited Seattle that one time, or maybe those are folks who lived two farms over back in the 1920s.. or…” I had to discipline myself to not just sit at the table with my eyes glazed over, and my mouth open in an inappropriate gape. It was like sitting at a table with Swahilis and Nepalese as they negotiated a trade agreement for hex-head metal screws. And I have to tell you – time does NOT fly by when all of this happens. It crawls like snail with a migraine.
So, yesterday… the old, old pictures are pretty much sorted, even though I know there is an entire trunk in Cheri’s mom’s living room in which is stored some other day’s job. No, our task for the day was a bit more, how do you day – sinister. Her mom had gone through envelope after envelope of developed prints, and had pretty well sorted them according to year, from the 1980s to current day. Yes, more than 30 years of photos. She wanted us to go through them, and to pick out any we might want to keep. The process, however, was far more complicated and gruesome than just that work. Cheri’s mom would open an envelope, go through each picture – normally about 36 or perhaps 72 if they had gotten double prints – making appropriate comments, and then she would hand the envelope to Cheri, to go through, and then finally, I was given the precious commodity to review.
Do you know, or can you guess, how many pictures of birthdays, and present openings and cakes being blown out and people sitting around tables eating a meal, of sisters in law, brothers in law, cousins, parents, grandparents nieces, nephews, not to mention photos taken as they would open presents on Christmas eve, one present at a time, when we weren’t even there, because I always worked on Christmas as a pastor. Oh, and don’t forget the pictures of people just awake, with hair all wild as they sat in pajamas and went through their stockings on Christmas morning. I wish there were only hundreds. I wish.
Envelope after envelope. No expectation or plans to organize, or just toss pictures away. Not even the ones that had people you could barely recognize standing by a house or garage as the photographer snapped a photo from a good 50 feet away. And heaven forbid if you actually just had a “bad” photo that should never really be seen by anyone, that you might just tear up and throw away. Nope – photos with eyes closed, or weird expressions or food in their mouths, or whatever are all kept and preserved, despite Cheri’s mom’s threat to just throw the whole bundle out.
Cheri was smart and shrewd enough to use a sleight of hand and pull out a few pictures from the hundreds and put them in her purse and away from review. It’s really hard to keep up a full head of steam, knowing there is a tall stack sitting right next to her mom, all the while knowing she has only brought out the “1998” pile, and she remembers seeing that one picture of the boys that was so cute that she has to find…
When time to leave mercifully came to pass, we said our goodbyes and got in the car to take the two-hour drive home. It’s amazing that for the first half hour or so, neither of us said anything – we just stared out the window. When we finally started decompressing, we were in total agreement that we hoped we would never have to undergo that experience again. I was ready to turn over secret nuclear weapons plans to a hostile nation, just to no longer do what we had to do.
Even this morning, over coffee, we re-reviewed the day. It was tough.
So, I will only say this: sometimes, in our grand scheme of trying to live intentionally, we accidentally pull others into our orbit and force them to find value in what we alone value. The result, if everyone is polite, is to have them spend an inordinate amount of time doing something they don’t intend to do, only to care for us in our misguided “stuff.” Worst case, of course, is that they aren’t polite, and our poor intentions get scuttled, and feelings get hurt.
Part of living intentionally means that we also live with a self-awareness, and not needing to have others fulfill our lives’ plans. We can invite others, but our first task then is to make sure they are still on board to have that experience, or otherwise, leave it all as something we alone will want to do, and not force others to do so. I can’t recall the number of times I got roped into doing something I really had no heart to do. I also expect there have been plenty of times I ruthlessly forced others to do what I wanted, instead of intentionally listening and being aware of what is best for everyone, and not just for me.
I’m sure there are other photos in our future. I’m just glad it’s not today. I’m not particularly liking birthday pictures right now…
Word for the day: scrouge. Pronounced “skrooj.” Don’t misinterpret it to be “scourge,” which is a word concerning whipping or beating someone, or describing someone who is a horrible person in society. “Scrouge,” sounds like Ebenezer, doesn’t it, although the word predates Dickens’ writing. “Scrouge” is an old English word, probably coming from an older English word of “scruze,” which is a combination of screw and squeeze. However you want to find its origin, the word indicates an encroachment on someone else’s space, or crowding in.
Our three cats have no sense of personal space – they scrouge each other all the time. As an introvert, I hate it when someone “scrouges” me – elevators are terrible that way, and in the days of the coronavirus, we would be well served to read the sign that says, “No scrouging!”
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.