Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Recognizing The Themes of Your Life

Hops Growing at the Schell Brewery, New Ulm, Minnesota

This past weekend my husband Bruce and I did one of the things we do best together. We wandered. I browsed through a Minnesota travel guide to decide the direction we would take, and he opened the plat book for Minnesota. We got in his sweet little Mazda Miata with the top down and took off for the day. Our general direction was southwest of St Paul, an area called the Minnesota River Valley. 

As we ambled we met fields of soybeans and corn and numerous detours, but when you don't have an agenda, every detour becomes an adventure, an opening for your imagination, and potential insights into our country's history.  Every gravel road divided by tall corn on either side seemed to lead to a thick grove of trees with a silo peeking over the top. You know there is an understated farmhouse, most likely white, perhaps with a wide front porch, at the end of that road. You wonder who lives there and what it would be like to live there yourself. We drove down main streets of small towns, very small towns, where even though it was a Saturday afternoon, the only cars in sight were at the local Dairy Queen. We stopped there, too, for no matter how good the homemade ice cream is at Grand Ole Creamery and no matter how many exotic flavors one can sample at our local delicious (and expensive) Izzy's, sometimes you just want a Dairy Queen Blizzard or hot fudge sundae. 

Small Town America
Some towns have done an amazing job of preserving their downtowns, responding to current needs, but maintaining the architectural beauty of small town American life in the early 1900's. Some towns have created a niche for themselves with clusters of antique shops or have built on their immigrant heritage, such as New Ulm with its German legacy.  Others, however, are tired and worn out, and one wonders when there will be just one last person to lock the door. 

As we drove along, I consulted the guidebook and read about each location, such as New Ulm's August Schell Brewery, the second oldest family-owned brewery in the United States, or the W.W. Mayo House in Le Sueur, and yes, that is the Mayo who was one of the founders of the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I read about the sad days of the Dakota Conflict of 1862 in which, as a result of ongoing violations of treaties with the Dakota nation, immigrant farmers and Native Americans lost their lives. Eventually, the Dakota were moved to North and South Dakota and Minnesota reservations were abolished. We had no idea we would encounter this deplorable part of our history when we set off on that hazy morning for a day of unscheduled ease. 

The Pleasures of Meandering
We always know, however, when we decide to roam that we will encounter surprises and memorable sites. We know choosing right instead of left or left instead of right will take us someplace we have never been before or maybe, just where we wanted to go. As long as we have the plat book (Nope, we don't have a GPS, for that annoying voice's intention is to keep us on some predetermined itinerary.) we won't be lost, and as long as we have enough energy and enough gas, we can follow the road ahead. We do this well and that has been one of the pleasures of our years together, a pattern and a theme in our life. 

Sometimes a day of meandering means meeting your past. I met part of mine as we wandered that day in Mankato. My family lived there for one year when I was in the sixth grade. We moved there from a suburb of Minneapolis when Dad, who was working for Mobil, was transferred there. Soon he was transferred to Mobil's headquarters in New York, and off we went, but it is a year I remember fondly. As I think about it now, that was a year of great growth and independence for me, as it often is for an 11 to 12 year old. 

Going Down Memory Lane
Before our day of wandering, I had only been back to Mankato once since we moved away and that was when our daughter was in high school, and I drove her and a friend to a high school music festival at Mankato State University. Needless to say, there have been many changes since I rode my bike downtown to the old Carnegie Library or the city pool. Bruce wondered if I could find our house, and all I could recall was going up a big hill and at the top was our small residential area and lots of open, undeveloped fields. I let my nose and my heart direct us to that hill, which is now home to many university buildings and apartment complexes. First, I saw a park and knew that was where I had gone ice skating every Friday evening in the winter. I was allowed to walk home with friends when it closed at 9:00. I knew we were headed in the right direction, but, of course, it all looked so different. When I saw the street sign, Birchwood, however, I knew we were close. I called my Dad, knowing he would remember the name of the street we lived on, but before he could return my call, I had one of those flash memories, 107 Birchwood, and we found the house. 

Bruce generously let me go down memory lane, finding the elementary school, which was brand new the year we lived there, and listened to my stories from that year--stories he has heard more than once, poor guy. I liked living there, and I think I would have been happy to have lived there more years than that one. 

Our move to New York was followed by other moves, leading us eventually to move back to Minnesota the spring of my junior year in high school. I have been the "new girl" many times. That theme continued into married life. I thought marrying someone who was going to be a physician would mean settling down in one place, someplace like Mankato, for example, and not moving again, but we have moved more times that I could have predicted. 

Exploring Life's Patterns and Themes
Moving has been a pattern, a theme, in my life. At this stage of my life I find myself exploring that theme, that pattern. I wonder how moving so often has shaped me and how I might have been different if I had graduated from Mankato High School, for example, instead of attending 4 additional schools after we moved away from Mankato. 

I think about both the shadow and the light of being a person always ready to move. I know how to move, and I do it well. I enjoy the settling in process -- creating my loop of life and discovering the uniqueness of each new place. I like being a tourist as we become acquainted with our new home, our home for as long as we are there. I like making our new location our home. That's the light. The shadow, however, has been loneliness  or weariness with starting over again. At times I rely too much on my own resources, choosing solitude over outreach. That is a pattern and a theme in my life, too. 

This is a time of our life when we are old enough to look back and recognize patterns and themes in our life and their meaning and effects on our development, character, and behavior. We can choose to do that as a bit of nostalgia, sharing stories and snapshots from our life or we can choose to go deeper, examining the spiritual lessons we have learned as patterns have been repeated and the theme has been refined. 

Questions For Exploration
Is there something we are being asked to learn when another loop or twist is added to the ongoing pattern, but we have not yet learned? Are we willing to ask ourselves hard questions about why something in our life seems to repeat itself? Are there patterns that need to broken? I think about the adage, "If we do what we have always done, we get what we have always gotten." Are we content with the result of doing what we have always done? 

Can we identify both the shadow and the light in an honest way? Is there an unhealthy pattern that would like to find the end of the road, but needs your assistance to make that happen? What is within that is waiting to be born or changed or dissolved? What needs to be healed?

Finding Guidance
I wish I could easily identify a chapter called "The Patterns and Themes of One's Life," in one of my hundreds of spirituality books but at the moment I think I am writing that chapter for myself. However, Joan Chittister http://www.benetvision.org in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully offers some guidance in the chapter, "Memories." 

    Memory is not about what went on in the past. It is about
    what is going on inside of us right at this moment…It is
    made up of the stuff of life in the process of becoming the
    grist of the soul. p. 154

    Memory is many things. It is a call to resolve in us what
    simply will not go away. It is an invitation to delight in
    what is gone but is, too, the gold standard of our lives. It
    is a desire for completion, for continuance of something
    we once had but lost too soon. It is always an opportunity
    for healing. It preserves for us what must be faced and
    wrestled to the ground of the soul before the soul is free
    to fly. Without memory we could go blithely on in life
    without ever really knowing what of that life was still
    unfinished, was still rumbling around inside of us, waiting
    for attention. p. 155

    Because of memory life is not simply one isolated act
    after another. It all fits into the image of the self and 
    the goals of the heart. It makes them real. It makes them
    whole. p. 155

Memories can be a tool to clarify the patterns and themes in our life. Our experiences and our memories of them can help uncover the bigger picture of our life, the shadow and the light, and lead us to healing and wholeness. Now is the time. 

Who knew when we sit out in our little car on Saturday morning to find the open road what we would see and discover? I came home not only with memories of a relaxing and special summer day, but also touches of memories of the past and deeper recognition of the patterns and theme in my life. I am so grateful. 

An Invitation
What are the patterns and themes in your life? What are they asking you to recognize and in what ways are they asking for your response? I would love to know.  

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