Monday, August 6, 2012

This land is my land — to a point

Psalm 62:5-8 (NIV)

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
   my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
   he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
   he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
   pour out your hearts to him,
   for God is our refuge.
Owing to a variety of circumstances, many of them related to being the parents of three young children, Kristie and I (and Charlie) managed to be present for roughly the last hour of the three-hour visitation for my grandmother this afternoon and evening. We retired with the family to my dad’s Aunt Shirley’s house, but we ended up being there for only about an hour as well. We had to get back to our hotel (about 20 minutes away) to relieve Kristie’s parents, who came here after they were at the visitation in order to supervise Jack and Max in the pool and then get them some dinner. Since they’re the supervisory crew for the funeral tomorrow morning, we were hoping to not abuse too much of their good will. As it is, they’ll get home around 10:30 p.m. and leave the house no later than 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Northwestern Illinois is beautiful — not as visually stunning as some of the parts of America I’ve been privileged to visit, but it certainly is much more awe-inspiring than the scenes of suburbia we so regularly encounter. It always triggers a special response in my heart. While the clinical reason is because my family’s heritage here stretches back to before the Civil War, in truth it’s simply because being out here among the rolling hills and abundant farmland makes me think of all the wonderful time I spent out here with my grandparents.

I’m sure if I drove through the guard shack at my mom’s parents’ condo complex in Florida, I’d have lots of pleasant Thompson family Christmas recollections. But there is something about this air, those hills, driving through quaint (and quick) downtown Elizabeth, past the house my dad grew up in and the high school he attended, nearing the farmhouse and land that enchanted me as a child… I don’t quite know how to put it into words. But suffice it to say I can be back in the town where we bought our first home, where we became a family, and easily overlook the nostalgia. Not so in Elizabeth. Everything I see is like a window to my past.

Again, I don’t suppose my experience is incredibly remarkable compared to lots of other people who have fond memories of their grandparents, or perhaps a favorite vacation spot or what have you. But this afternoon, driving through town, past most of the landmarks I just mentioned, I was struck by the fact the emotions I was feeling are something I’ve never be able to fully share with my children.

Walking down Lone Street in July 2006.
My grandparents lived at the farmhouse until 2005, and it was not sold until late summer 2006. At the time, we only lived about 45 minutes south, so Jack got up here a fair amount. That was especially true the summer everyone worked to prepare for the sale — it seems like we were up here twice a month, and I know full well my dad and his brothers logged many, many more hours than we witnessed. We have some pretty good pictures of Jack exploring the property (I used one for the cover of my book), but he surely has no memory of those times. And though he is eight, he doesn’t have a real great memory of my grandparents. This is in part due to his trouble with names — he can’t keep straight relatives he sees far more regularly than we visited my grandmother.

And the other two, obviously, are way too young. Max has much better instincts for names and forging relationships, but he’s only four. How much do you remember about being four? So while I can drive them here and tell them stories, they’ll just be my stories. It will be something they know, but nothing they feel. We routinely drive past the high school I attended and see the field where I got so much enjoyment out of my time in marching band. But that was my experience. Unless they go to school there and play in the band, they won’t have any real connection the way I do.

So while I feel strongly the boys will develop good relationships with their grandparents and develop their own special associations and emotions, I must accept that this part of the state will never mean to them — or anyone who comes after them — what it does to me and those who came before. I guess that’s the natural order of things, and while it does inspire sadness, what more should I have expected? I can’t pass along everything I hold dear. And focusing on all the sentiment that slowly fades away might obscure my chance to take part in all the wonderful memories we’ve yet to make.

Five years ago, when we buried my grandfather, Kristie was pregnant with Max. Today, Charlie is 18 months old. Being immersed in that youth is exactly what my soul needs. As I say goodbye with a heavy heart, I can see and touch the next generation of Hollands. We have different ZIP codes, different careers, different challenges and opportunities. But we’ll forever be connected. When I live as they lived and love as they loved, it won’t mater what scenery we roll past.

This land always makes me feel closer to family, and it helps me feel close to God. The more I think about it, the less there’s a clear line between the two. God is love. Family is love. A family that loves with God’s love is a taste of Heaven on Earth.

A prayer for August 6:

Lord, you are my rock and my salvation. When my heart is heavy, I know my soul will find rest in you. I rely on your comfort, and I am humbled by how easy it is to find refuge in you. I wish I were worthy of your grace, that I could begin to repay you what I owe. I thank you for the blessing of this time with family. Through our tears, we will smile because we know the promise you have made for all who believe. You are now and will always be our hope and strength. Amen.

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