Monday, March 27, 2006

Memory is a good thing ... if you learn from it.

I recall being a little kid living on the edge of the Chicago suburbs. Our town was (and still is) called Tinley Park. There was a big huge field bordering my backyard. In the middle of the field stood (and still stands) the transmitting tower for WLS radio. WLS, better known in those days as “The Rock of Chicago” was a powerhouse station that played your basic household rock ‘n roll music. It was a “clear channel” station, which, as I understand it, means that no other station anywhere broadcasts on their frequency. That allowed them to be heard far and wide across these rolling acres called America, particularly at night. (It was so powerful ... and we were so close ... that we actually would pick the station up through our heating ducts on occasion. This also explains my proclivity to occasionally burst out spontaneously into a musical chorus of "WLS in ChiiiCaaaGooo..." I understand it has to do with electrical impulses and brain waves.) I listened to it from my grandparent’s house in Arkansas during our summer vacations. I disliked Arkansas and the music was soothing to my homesick heart. Over the years my brother and I would stand at our bedroom window and watch in awe as lightening would strike that tower repeatedly during a typical spring or summer storm. You could see the sparks dance down the wires that grounded the tower. For us it was like watching the 4th of July fireworks in the rain.

I also recall a man in our neighborhood. I do not know his name. He was probably in his 50’s. He would walk around our block all day long. Every day. He looked straight ahead, never turning his head, never talking, never giving any indication that he had any mission in life other than to walk the block. My dad said the man had served in WWII and was “shell shocked.” I don’t really know what his story was. I suppose my dad knew things that I did not. I just knew enough to stay away from the silent stranger.

And then I recall spending strained moments under our house in the 4-foot "crawl space" one night waiting for the world to end. A tornado was ravaging our neighborhood and my 9-year-old brain really didn’t understand what was going on. I only knew that my parents woke me up at 2AM and pulled me down a small set of stairs to this graveled place where I didn’t want to be. When the roar stopped and only the pounding of the rain remained to be heard we made our way upstairs and looked out the windows, surveying the damage left behind in the glare of the lightening flash. The next morning my friends and I made the rounds on our bikes while our parents began putting homes back in order. The things we found in ditches and fields for the next months was most amazing as the tornado deposited whatever it happened to grab haphazardly across the area.

I remember the days following the storm. One house had exploded. An entire end was simply blown apart. Nobody lived in it at the time. That was a good thing. My best friend lost his roof. We had a huge awning over our patio that my brother and I found wrapped around a picnic table blocks away. And then there was the silent stranger. The day after the storm he was still there, making his rounds. He was completely oblivious to the carnage that was all around him. He did not even notice a storm had passed through. He certainly never noticed the treasures we were finding in the fields. Perhaps he was not mentally capable and I mean no disrespect ... but he certainly did not learn anything from the storm.

I am trying to sort out what I am learning lately. God is busy. He is working all around me and sometimes even through me. Occasionally the learning comes hard, like in the rubble-strewn trail behind a tornado. It usually is not a cloud tornado that teaches me. Most often it is a tornado of another sort. Perhaps a relationship gone sour. A toe broken against the unbending wood of a bedroom dresser. (Don’t ask.) An unkind word heard or spoken that, either way, must be dealt with. Proverbs 119: 71 tosses a piece of wisdom my way when it says, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” That means … learn from the pain lest you have to go through it again.

So I get to be like a kid on a bike, sorting through the aftermath of one of life’s tornados. Seeking treasures in the midst of chaos. Or I get to be like the silent stranger going around the same block over and over and over. Never learning anything. Ever seeing … never understanding.

Memory is a good thing … if you learn from it


Anonymous said...

I agree with you completly Ron that goes right along with the quote those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. But Your point takes even farther and i like it. What good is remembering something if you dont learn from it.