So, last weekend when my sister-in-law asked to visit Hobby Lobby, and I saw a box of Jacks, I bought them, of course. (H.L. carries an interesting selection of "vintage" games.) I was thinking of my granddaughter, Lilia, at the time, and wondering whether she plays jacks. I really don't know. Do kids still jump rope? Play hopscotch?
I planned to save them for her, but this morning I opened the box and gave it a try.
I suppose it's sort of like riding a bicycle. After years of not riding, it feels a little wobbly at first. Things don't feel as stable, as precise. That was my experience this morning, sitting on the kitchen floor, trying to reestablish that rhythm, that natural sweep, that steady bounce of the ball. My hands have grown larger, and seem to be in the way. I picked up the jacks one at a time, then in twos, then scooped up more. Other games started falling into my brain, something about chickens in a coop and cows jumping over a fence, and another one where you transfer the jack to the other hand before catching the ball. One about stars in orbit, too. It was fun, even though right now I feel like I'm Queen of Absolutely Nothing.,
First of all, there was the matter of eating, which, who does that well when they're all alone? I remember one night having cheese and a glass of wine for dinner, followed with a batch of brownies. (Not the entire batch, thankfully.) I suppose when Jack reads this, he'll go on a search for those. One night I attempted to order a pizza, and figured out, as I listened while the young man went back and forth between prices for medium and small (which cost more than two mediums) and ended up searching for a coupon for me, that I wasn't even hungry, and ended up cancelling the order.
That's just a little weird.
Last night, I ended up doing some laundry, reading, and looking at Facebook. Somehow, on Facebook I stumbled onto the "Thank You John Heath" page.
John Heath was a campus minister, and my friend and mentor in college. (College the first time. . .in 1968.) John died recently, at the age of eighty. In April, an acquaintance from college contacted a mutual friend who lives in Houston to ask her to let me know of John's passing. When I read his obituary, I couldn't believe it. . .Eighty? How could John be Eighty? (Well, because I'm sixty-four, that's how!)
I haven't seen John in more than forty years, and though I've thought of him over the years, I haven't missed him this way, or let myself sit with the many good memories I have of our friendship. As I read through the tributes, remembrances, and stories others have shared over the past month since John's death, I realized that each of us have had the same experience of John. Everyone speaks of his warmth, his steady friendship, his humor, the way he drew us in and included us. John didn't make time for us, so much as John had time for us. I know I spent hours and hours with him, and so many other former students say the same thing. For more than thirty-nine years John was a fixture on a small college campus in Oklahoma, just making himself available to students, listening, welcoming, taking us seriously, and helping us to grow and to grow up. And have I mentioned it? John had a great sense of humor. The love of Christ permeated John's character and personality, and every one of us knows we've never met anyone else like him.
It's odd the way a fresh grief can put us in touch with our other griefs. Odd, too, the way news of John's death puts me in touch with the passage of time, the losses and gains, the people who have passed through my life, conjuring up memories that have lain dormant for half a lifetime. Really odd to see a long list on a page entitled Thank You John Heath of names of people from my youth, who have followed their own far flung paths, but are somehow still connected in this web of friendship through John.
These are the kinds of things that come up when I speak of Living in Layers. By this stage of life, the long accumulation of experiences, loves, places and graces, those things with which I'm certain John was well acquainted, interconnect and somehow sustain us.
And isn't life just such a miracle--this beautiful meshing of memories, of a very special man, and a precious friendship that's never ended at all, really. Memory can be such a great gift to us, and is. And as I continue to think about that long list of people, old friends who touched my life at that critical stage of exploration called college, the memories of those people and my time with them begin to come back to me and touch me all over again.
And maybe that's what this stage of life is for--the recovery, in a sense, of people and experiences, and even some skills, like playing jacks, that had a significant place in our lives at one time, and had such great meaning for us.