Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taking Up Emotional Space

The young man who grew up across the street has moved back in with his father, bringing his new wife.  He was the youngest of the four, two years older than our first son.  They did play together some, especially the street and outdoor games like TV tag or hide-and-seek.  But they weren’t close, as two years was a fair distance at that age, and they had few common interests.  I’m sure he came into the house a few times, but not many.  It was more frequent that our son went over there, to the wonderful land where they had TV and ate snack foods whenever they wanted. Yet in chatting with my wife and introducing his new bride he said, in all sincerity “I was over here all the time.” Tracy and I talked about that surprising comment later.  The summer that she had Vacation Bible Camp in the back yard may have been part of it. Invitations to a couple of birthday parties likely figured in. But my oldest son’s assessment may come closest to the explanation. His memory was that people didn’t talk to each other much in that house.  Also, the parents were divorced, so the children were sometimes in one house and sometimes in another.  There was nothing like a regular pattern that lasted more than a few months.  The boys would be with Dad and the girls with Mom for awhile, then all four would be away, then one would be back, then all come back except on weekends. It didn’t seem abusive or angry, just chaotic and emotionally thin.

It reminded me of a similar instance, of running into a previous foster-daughter years later. She had been with us three months in 78-79.  We had run into her three times in the intervening decades, and she was now a waitress at the Bickfords we went to for late-night breakfast.  Very early in the conversation she made reference that she had really liked living with us those three years.  It seemed unbelievable to her that it had been only a few months when she was eight.  Children are seldom good judges of time, but this seemed an unusual expansion of the reality.  Yet her life also had some emotional impoverishment – a mother who did care about her but was easily overwhelmed and scattered, making poor decisions (especially boyfriend decisions) and chasing rainbows.  Again, not abusive, but emotionally shallow.

And so we came to take up more space than we would have thought possible.  I am certain the opposite happens as well, when we do some great good for another who forgets we even existed, or never realises what was given.  That may be true for evil as well, folks forgetting (blessedly) some wrong we have done them that haunts us still.

I bring this up after a post by James, Power In OrdinaryPeople jogged my memory. My inclination is to bemoan how little influence we have, including those close to us.  That may reflect my job, or my general outlook more than my real experience. We pass through a few decades, no one notices, the world goes on.  But that is a decidely wordly outlook.  If my measurement is how much the general culture, or the world, or history is affected by what I do, then I’m not likely to notice much movement on the dial.  Yet, if, as CS Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, it is those “long-term” things which are in fact ephemeral, while the individuals we meet are the eternal things, then that vision is skewed. 


jlbussey said...


(From a slightly different perspective.)

Texan99 said...

I have vivid and extensive memories of kindergarten and first grade, when I attended a very small neighborhood private school, and then very little memory at all of second through sixth grade in the public school.

Sam L. said...

We never know how much a kind word or gesture, or unkind ones, will affect another, now how long it will be remembered.

Go for the kind ones.

james said...

It isn't our own native goodness that makes the difference, but God using it. Fortunately.

I remember one apartment complex we lived at for a while. When I went outside to play with our kids (I didn't do that often enough; I should have bailed on some job stuff that turned out not to matter) or do some amateur carpentry I was aswamp with neighbor children. We and our next-door neighbors were the only unblenderized families in the complex, and Tuesday/Friday fathers don't seem to quite cut it.

Texan99 said...

My father was one of those guys who would "help" with a school project and sort of take it over! Once I was supposed to make a model of the pyramids. I no longer have the slightest memory of the class it was for, but did we ever get into that pyramid! He insisted it had to have the right proportions, and to be smooth white plaster because the pyramids originally had been faced with a smooth white stone. It was a cutaway, with a long sloping passage leading to the tomb chamber with a table and a pharaoh. We made little urns out of clay and filled them with tiny gold coins. We learned all about hieroglyphics from the Encyclopedia and decorated the walls with what we took to be real messages. I think I could still recreate the whole thing from memory.

I do miss him. He was a stoic and emotionally repressed man, what we would called Aspergerish today, but this was the way he connected. Give him a project like that, and he was the eternal child.