lenten journal: looking through some photographs


    For many of the years we lived in New England, we shared our Charlestown neighborhood with the USS Constitution, which was docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. I even got to ride on it one Bunker Hill Day (that’s June 17 to those not from Boston) on its turn around cruise in Boston harbor. It is still the oldest commissioned vessel in the Navy. One of the things that means is the Navy can continue to repair it. Once a ship is decommissioned it loses its historical authenticity if anything is altered, but a commissioned vessel can be changed and kept up. The Constitution, as it is today, is only about ten percent original material, even though it is still recognizable and considered to be the ship it has always been.

    Tonight, at the end of a day that included working an extra catering shift to serve lunch to 330 people in the halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium to sharing another round of oysters with my friend Terry to wine and cheese with new friends, Ginger started thumbing through old photo albums getting ready for some cleaning and arranging we have to do tomorrow. As she turned pages, I saw myself as I have not seen myself in years; I, too, it seems, am about ten percent original material.

    And still in commission.

    About the time this picture was taken, Jackson Browne released what is still my favorite record of his – and it was a record: Late for the Sky. The second track, “Fountain of Sorrow,” begins

    looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
    I was taken by a photograph of you
    there were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
    but they didnt show your spirit quite as true

    you were turning round to see who was behind you
    and I took your childish laughter by surprise
    and at the moment that my camera happened to find you
    there was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes

    fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
    youve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
    youve had to hide sometimes, but now youre all right
    and its good to see your smiling face tonight

    Some of the pictures brought back very specific memories. I could remember when it was taken, what was going on, even details down to smells and sounds and feelings. Others were harder to place. Then there were inadvertent series: Ginger and Milton hugging each other over the years; Milton in the kitchen; Schnauzerfest. Since organization is not our strong suit, some albums had pictures from different years sitting next to each other, making me wonder how I got from one to the other.

    And how I got from there to here.

    I’m the liturgist for worship this Sunday. The gospel passage is from John 3 – the last half of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Though the reading doesn’t begin until Jesus starts talking about snakes on a stick, I can’t help but notice Nicodemus’ bewilderment at having to be born again. Perhaps he had a hard time because he knew nothing of photographs (or Jackson Browne, for that matter). He had no albums to thumb through, calling him to remember his wonder years or what life was like in Pharisee School. As I turned pages, I saw myself born again and again, the photographs morphing from mounds of memories into gatherings of gratitude.

    It has been good to see my smiling face tonight.



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