Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Latest podcast

You can hear my last Sunday's "Undercurrents" column as a podcast at this link.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

An empty ache in Century

Empty spaces.

Just a year and a half ago, I wrote about my chance encounter with photos of my Grandma’s house in a church hallway 120 miles away. A Panama City youth group had gone to Century to clean up Hurricane Ivan debris and had paused for a lunch on the front porch of her old house, which was by that time empty and had been purchased by a church that now met in the former Century High School building next door.

I wrote of how this crowd of people caring for a stranger’s house had touched me, how I had never anticipated seeing the house under those circumstances, how I’d expected the house to end up being bulldozed rather than put to use again.

I wrote of missing the front porch and flowery yard I saw in those pictures, childhood days of play and work among the azaleas, and the woman who had lived there, "who always had been an old woman" in my memory.

Now, like her, even the old house and its grounds are only memories.

All of it is gone. The house, the azaleas, the fence, and whatever trees had survived the hurricanes (except for a few pines on the back of the property). Her fountains and pools, which she had built with her own hands using concrete and bricks and stones she had gathered on summer vacations.

The walkway she’d poured around the backyard fountain.

The hopscotch court she’d drawn in wet concrete in the midst of her flower garden so that it would survive forever — or at least for the use of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Crushed, now. Destroyed.

Even the grass. They had tilled the earth and dragged it and flattened it. It was a brown scar.

Last weekend, I walked the empty lot where Grandma’s house had stood between the high school and elementary off Hecker Road. It seemed so small now. How could a house and sheds and gigantic azaleas — all of it — how had so many memories fit in so small an empty space?

In the midst of the lot, my wife kneeled and discovered a tiny square of tan tile peeking from under brown earth. Grandma had used these inch-square pieces in her bathroom.

Then she found an old asthma spray cartridge, a symbol of the woman’s lingering infirmity recalling memories of her drawing on those things, desperate for a breath.

We sat in the van and considered the past, the traces of it in our fingers, and a breathless aching in an empty, Grandma-shaped space inside.



This was my "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald on Sunday, April 16. To hear a podcast of me reading this column click here.


My friend Pat sent me the following devotional today:

Of house and home
by John Fischer

Yesterday, I watched 80 years of memories get bulldozed to splinters in 20 minutes. That’s how long it took to reduce a house across the street from us to rubble. We were told it was a 1920s Sears "kit house" and one of the first houses on our block. A tiny one-bedroom cottage, it’s a miracle it held up for this long.

Part of why it came down so fast was its single-wall construction. There didn’t seem to be a 2 X 4 in the place. The big bulldozer brought its giant shovel down on the house’s flat roof and the living room snapped in two. A few more drops on the rest of the walls and it was over. My neighbor, who watched it come down with me, commented that the house was probably held up
by two screws.

I thought of the woman who had lived there most of her life and died two years ago in her 80s. She kept to herself mostly and hardly ventured out except to attend church. The only time we were ever inside was when the house was put up for sale "as is" after her death. We wondered if she was a sole survivor, as no one had even bothered to remove her things.

I couldn’t help but think as I watched it flattened that this little house kept a family warm and dry for 80 years. Someone lovingly cleaned it regularly, hung pictures on its walls, arranged furniture, burned fires in the fireplace, and cooked dinner for whoever was around. Books were read, letters were written, music was played, Christmases and birthdays were celebrated, prayers were prayed, and love was made inside those walls.

These are the things that turn a house into a home.

For the new owner, however, it was a worthless piece of junk that probably cost maybe $3,000 in its day and next to nothing to build, sitting on a million-dollar piece of property. Yet for one woman it was filled with memories and something ached inside me as I watched it come down, even though I didn’t know her. Now the house is gone, but somewhere those memories remain.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, Paul calls our current bodies temporary dwellings, or "tents" – less substantial than the house across the street. And yet it’s the body in which we live, love, and find meaning for as long as we are given on this earth. It’s a fragile existence with eternal connections.

That’s why, of all the things we can do in this body, finding God is the most important. Knowing God will ensure that we have a home with him when this house we currently occupy is nothing but a pile of wood and broken glass. And think of all the memories!

(John Fischer is the Senior Writer for Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotionals. He resides in Southern California with his wife, Marti and son, Chandler. They also have two adult children, Christopher and Anne. John is a published author and popular speaker.)