Rachel and I connected over the internet after I read her wonderful book on a plane, crying so hard by the end that my seat mates inquired after my well-being. Her words have lived with me, as I've continued on my journey. But over the weeks and months, Rachel and I became friends, and her words just to me continue to live with me as we walk the path together, fellow pilgrims. We had a chance to meet in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing in early April where we drank coffee, with joy. Rachel's de(tale) made me weep as I read it last night. It was just what I needed to hear, and I suspect that it is what many of you need to hear as well. I could not be more honored to share it with you.
I cried while unpacking plates yesterday.
My son, who is eight and a half, watched me put them away in the freshly cleaned cabinets of our new home; the first home we’ve owned -- the first home that was not consciously and intentionally a stopping-off place between where we’d come from and where we’re going.
“Wait -- the stuff in the boxes is ours?” he asked. “I thought it was just some junk left in the basement.”
These are the plates we got when we married, eleven years ago this month. Between then and now we’ve lived in eight different dwellings in four countries and four states. We have eaten off of plates in fully furnished apartments we’ve rented; off plates I grudgingly purchased for the short time we lived here or there, while our plates, the plates from Macy’s, graceful but sturdy, practical plain white porcelain, waited, packed carefully in their original boxes.
Padding those original boxes were clean cloth diapers. When I packed them away, my son still wore diapers. Now he reads Harry Potter and plays Mozart on the violin.
I cried while unpacking plates yesterday because I am a reluctant adventurer; hobbitlike in height and hair texture and love of eating; of peace and quiet, of flowers and of the comforts of home. More than almost anything, I have longed to watch the years go by from one beloved spot, not so as to avoid the inevitable changes that time brings, but rather to know that at the end of the day my family and I will eat off the same plates at the same table.
What is it about time that makes us speak in clichés even if we don’t want to? Where did the time go, we say. It seems like only yesterday. How can it really have been seven years since I’ve seen these plates; eleven years since we said ‘I do’? How could we have been so young? Look how little our niece was!
Perhaps the question beneath the clichés -- at least for me -- is why does the evidence of time passing grieve me? What do I weep for, exactly?
On our wedding day, eleven years ago this month, I was tempted to worry about details. What if they forgot to put out the beautiful planters of flowers? (They didn’t.) What if the service was weird? (It wasn’t.) What if the photographer was awful? (He was.)
But the dogwood trees were also at their most beautiful moment. My niece, Elli, was a perfect toddler flower girl, and she played contentedly with a long string of pearls in the front pew all through the ceremony. I can still see the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows, and the happy tears in my best friends’ eyes as I made my way to the altar.
I savored those details then, not because I was so “in the present,” as everyone seems to be saying now, but because I was consciously and carefully wrapping the memories as memories to be unpacked at some future date, in some other place. And unwrapping them, particularly when I have forgotten what it was I packed away so long ago, does occasionally call forth tears.
But it also sets a table for me, and for the ones I love -- a table with cup and plate always ours, always full, always waiting, present even in the furnished rentals and the thrift store plates grudgingly purchased for the meantime, because wherever we are, however lost and rootless I feel, it is love -- it is Jesus -- who welcomes us home.
Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food (InterVarsity Press, March 2013) and a regular contributor to Christianity Today's her.meneutics blog. She has contributed to Christianity Today, The Christian Century, Books & Culture, Flourish, and The Huffington Post, among other publications. She blogs at RachelMarieStone.com and you can also find her over on Twitter.
Photo: Rachel Marie Stone and her younger son (age 6) in their new house. Photo courtesy Spark + Tumble/Lisa Beth Anderson. (www.lbanderson.com)
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.