Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016.04.24 The Ultimate Value of Memory

When an old shipwrecked memory emerges to shove its prow into my mind without warning, my heart leaps in recognition. A rush of thoughts and feelings follow.

I’ve wondered if this process was the same for biblical writers. The Bible is one of the most complex, diverse, and complicated memoirs I’ve ever read. All the authors of the New Testament must each have experienced strong and insistent memories—over and over— of being in Jesus’s presence. Then they had collective experiences that swept them off their feet. I’m sure they compared and debated and shared. It took them over 20 years of talking and remembering, and talking some more, selecting, and praying to get Jesus Christ written into gospel form.
My memoir over all took about that long to compile and write and revise and edit—over and over. The structuring process itself was transformative, especially deciding what to leave in and what to leave out, and why, or why not. Written or not written, the memories keep on coming.

Like today, I was sewing a button on my winter coat and my maternal grandmother surfaced. I saw her clearly, her mouth filled with straight pins clinging to her lips for dear life. (The sharp end faced in!) Both her hands were occupied fussing to smooth the fabric, readying it for her straight pins.When she had it plumb and flattened to her satisfaction, she held it down with one hand and with the other plucked a pin from between her lips and inserted it into the fabric to hold her seam in place. She repeated this action many times over—swiftly.

I watched in awe, fearful that one day she would surely swallow a pin. Mesmerized and held in the grip of this dangerous drama, I didn’t move a muscle, though I was itching to ask how she did this? Terrified to interrupt her for fear she would swallow a pin, or several pins, or all the pins, and then we’d have to rush off to the hospital. She might even die—and somehow it would be my foolish fault, or it might be so adjudged.

And how in the world did she manage always to have just the right number of pins in her mouth By the time she decided to use the Singer, invented in 1850 by Isaac Singer, and mass-produced by 1863 so it could be sold to housewives for $10. My grandmother was already an accomplished seamstress. The Singer was the first machine able to sew continuously and also around curves, revolutionizing the art of sewing—but not real stitching, my grandmother said. When she stitched by hand she looked to my young admiring eye to be faster than the machine.


This grandmother, whom I'd named Ga when I was a child, was very close to my mother, her youngest and fourth child, and our family. Ga grew up Marguerite Gordon Hall in Medford, Massachusetts. She eloped at eighteen with her beloved, Avon Franklin Adams, a Jewish impresario, whom she married in New York City in 1891. The Halls of Medford did not approve of this marriage. Nevertheless, the couple settled in Manhattan and had a family.

I can’t say I was fond of Ga, although I coveted her attention. When my younger sister Laurie was born Ga made it a project to make sure Laurie got enough attention, fearing that my mother would favor me. Result: Ga favored Laurie and I was the one who felt slighted. Ah, dynamics!

Ga gave me two miraculous gifts:
     1) She created an entire wardrobe for my doll Lucille, must of it meticulously hand-stitched, including a Queen of Hearts costume, just like the one she made for me to wear to a costume party. The costume exactly replicated the playing card. I was small and shy and far from queenly, but the costume pulled it off for me that day. I won first prize for the most original costume.
    2) Watching Ga, I learned to sew and conquer my fears of being pricked or crunching a fabric beyond recognition.  She was not patient with my mistakes, like sewing a zipper perfectly—into the hemline of a skirt. But I learned, and in time I had as many pins in my mouth as she did. I made the bridesmaids dresses for my sister Jeanie’s wedding.  They were white velvet. Believe me, velvet is a fabric that shows no mercy to a seamstress.

Writing memoir is like piecework, as Ga called intricate stitching and piecing odd patterns of fabric together. That’s how I imagine the Bible was put together. There is only one purpose: to faithfully and honestly reveal the relationship between God and Godde’s creation, including the annoyingly persistent relational pattern of connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting, particularly endemic to humanity.  Some people call it sin and redemption. I call it the work of the Holy Spirit, whose energy works the between spaces in relationships pulling for healing.

The Mystery of this process is the re-connection. And with Godde it never fails.