Years gone by
Many years ago I wrote an article in which I retold a story of a man who encountered a snake on a path he took on his way home. The path wound through a woods. Sunlight floating through leaves lit the path with dappled light. In other places the shadows were deep and dark sharply contrasted by the light. There in one of those dark places was something he couldn’t quite make out. He had just turned a corner as the path sloped down and there in front of him was a snake curled, waiting motionless. He stood breathless, uncertain. If he moved would it strike. He had not heard of a snake so large living in the woods. But there it was. Quietly waiting for the man to move. The woods seemed to slowly stop. Everything grew quiet. His heart beat, loud in his ears. As he stared at the snake in the moving shadows he realized that the snake was just a piece of rope that someone had dropped.
A few years ago I stood in a parking lot of a convenience store. A neighbor’s home once stood here. The hedge along the boundary that defined our property was now gone. It used to enclose the small backyard. I’d grown up digging holes, climbing the mango tree, building a clubhouse with neighborhood kids. Now that was all gone. The house looked smaller, dirtier. Where the hedge seemed to hold back the comings and goings of the street, now the messiness of the street and the convenience store seemed to wash over the house. Maybe the newly rebuilt fire station next door gave contrast to the old house. But it was more than that. The house like all things was reaching the end of its life.
Like the man on the trail, I was looking at something that was not there. And yet I was seeing something. A woman was hanging out clothes to dry. I asked her if she was the owner. She said no. Who owned this house now? Our family had not lived there in forty years. My parents had built our home here. They added to it over the years. A duplex. A fourplex. More units across the street. I was almost run over once running through traffic, carrying a water hose, to water the planters and lawn. I must have been maybe nine or ten years old.
These memories are still with me. I have some photos of times long gone. The experiences of those times are also long gone. Now, maybe the house too is gone. And yet I remember. And when I remember I think about and feel something. What I remember is in the past. What I experience from those memories is in the present. Whether imagined or otherwise our perception influences how we respond to and engage the world.
As the man on the trail began to see more clearly what was once a source of concern was now seen with relief. As I stood looking at the rundown house in front of me I thought about growing up here. This was the last place my father lived. Things seemed to change quickly after his death.
As I write this article I am remembering more of the time at this house. Taking down window screens to wash with a broom and soap. Hand trimming the lawn after it was mowed. The scent of cut grass Sunday mornings on the way to Sunday School. Sometimes we’d get custard filled pastry called “long johns”. Seems odd they were called that maybe because nobody wore long johns in Hawai’i. I know now my father loved that placed where he had built a home. I know he loved his growing family.
Sometimes when we look at the world with what we know we end up with only where we have been. If we can acknowledge our narrow view of the world we might begin to see things we had not considered before. Is it simply imagination or something more. Until this very moment I had not thought of my father loving something. I’ve changed and when I think about the old, rundown house it’s much more than just this time. It is my life time that informs how I understand and experience the influences that shape how I engage the world.
Nothing magical. Just extraordinary.