Place Holders

While Karen and I were moving into our new apartment a few weeks ago, my friend, one of many helping us move that day, passed me on the stairway, out of breath, and said that I had two options: never move again, or not be friends with him by the time I did.

The reason he was out of breath is because, once again, we chose a third floor apartment, and we counted something in the neighborhood of 38 steps up. That’s a lot of trips from the moving truck. And the apartment has an upstairs. I haven’t felt the need to go to the gym for a while.

I love third floor (or fourth, or whatever the topmost level happens to be) apartments because of both practical privacy reasons, but also because of the view. I like to see things, to look out over the other buildings and the streets in the mornings as things come to life. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a God-complex…and it’s certainly not that I’m a morning person…but my favorite spot in the mornings to pray and meditate is in our sun room, watching the sun rise over the horizon, and watching the street below begin to come to life with runners, dog-walkers, people who leave for work earlier than I (not difficult, as I have punctuality issues). I like to take time to ponder the possibilities that the new day brings…as Jeremiah pens in Lamentations, His mercies are fresh every morning. What will happen with this particular day? What will be required of me? Will I be prepared to meet that challenge? How will I make today count in the truest sense of time, and not just wait for the marker to pass on a calendar?

When Karen and I were married, our friends gave us the use of their beach house for the week of our honeymoon. When we arrived that evening, the steps to the front door were lined with candles as our friends had gone out of their way to ensure a beautiful and unforgettable beginning to our new life together. Karen saved several of the candle holders from that evening, and currently has decorated one window ledge of our sun room with them. I can’t see them and not smile. They’re not expensive in any way, but they are placeholders for a beautiful and cherished memory. That day, that evening, was amazing for so many reasons. My mind will still spin today with a depth of emotion I can’t convey in a few sentences when I remember that night, and those candle holders will always bring about those emotions. This struck my attention while I was thinking a few mornings ago, thinking about time and possibilities.

What struck me immediately after was that, folded on the back of my chair, was a down comforter that I had purchased for my grandmother about four years ago. It’s blue, with snowmen on it. My first Christmas in grad school, when I was focusing on school full time and living just above the poverty line, I had spotted this comforter in Target unexpectedly. It was cheap, I was poor, and I called my parents to get their opinion on whether or not Grandma would like the comforter as a Christmas gift. They assured me she would, and they were right. The thing with being an only grandchild was, at least as far Grandma was concerned, that I could no wrong, and that everything was special when it came from me. Ironic, because I hadn’t put much thought into the gift. I almost always purchase gifts impulsively, and the comforter had been no exception. It was with her until the end, in her hospital room. Regardless of how poor her memory became, she always remembered that comforter had been a gift from me. She would claim it was the only thing that would keep her warm.

The irony of that contemplative morning a few days ago was striking to me: the still stinging memory of my grandmother’s death represented by the comforter, and the immediate smile that I cannot stop upon seeing the candle holders from our honeymoon, both occurring in the same minute, both in the same room. It made me think of time, of endings and beginnings, of second chances to get things right, and then third chances after that. It made me think of grace.

Time progresses, keeps moving forward. Relationships change, as mine and Karen has grown since our first week of marriage. My relationship with my grandmother had declined through no fault of anyone’s as we were distanced not only geographically from one another, but by the age-induced fog that obscured her cognitive processes during her final years. Those two items, a comforter and a collection of candle holders, serve as placeholders for points in time. They are both inexpensive, and both invaluable. They both transport me back to treasured moments in a past I shared with two people I love very much, and they inform my present. They both make me smile. They both trigger memories more valuable to me than I express, of two people more dear to me than I can express.

They both ground me in today, because the love and future hope represented by them both made a difference in both my life and the life of another. They both push me into the day with the knowledge that perhaps I will have a chance to make that day count for something.

They both begin my morning by opening a window into my past that happens to be next to the window to the street below, and, in turn, leave me with a great confidence in the providence of the future.