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September 26th, 2006

Spaces between



I know I have mentioned how much I treasure the spaces in between. I value those instants between the "big" moments, those moments of flow. They are the closest I come to understanding what I believe they call "process theology".

Yet tonight, in two separate instances, I thought about the other aspect of those spaces. If there are moments of silence, from which all good music derives, then there are also the involuntary spaces, where people used to live. I thought of the way that people occupy a place in memory when they are gone, and how that simultaneous sense of absence and presence permeates everything.

I read this weekend from a book of letters written between relatives in Alabama and in Arkansas
during the period from just before the Civil War to just after the turn of the 20th Century.
The letters provide a good exemplar of middle class life in small southern towns. I'll skip over the moral paradoxes of that time and place. I'll instead hover over the endless reference in the correspondence to illness and people passing. Some of them are poignant, involving the recordation of immediate loss. Some are more matter-of-fact, part of the fabric of everything.

Rather than dwell on other examples which are on my mind tonight, I will talk about my dog Beatrice.
We adopted her because we lost our friend Scout. Scout lived a long and happy life. We arguably did not let her go as quickly as we might, but I think that in the main we did as we should do at each step along the way. Just short of a year later, in January of this year, we adopted young Bea.

If Beatrice had an ad slogan, her slogan might be "eager to please". I have read that dogs adopted from shelters often show this trait--the instinct toward ingratiation brought into full play by the need to be needed. I think in this context that behavioral theories like "love or conditioning" are beside the point. Dogs are what dogs are--that is the law and the prophets of dogs.

Bea fills a space in one sense. She can never fill a space in another sense. We all soldier on with the people and animals and spaces at hand. We can never live without those we have lost. The lives we lived then we live no longer. We live, though, with the lives we have. I think that people in a time before anti-biotics understood that better than we do now.

A friend from France sent me a link to his vacation pictures today in the south of that country.
My French does not exist, although I usually say it is "croissant French", as I can "je voudrais" myself through most menu items, so long as the body part words are words I understand. Yet I could read the slogans on the pictures and see the pictures and understand the vacation, after my own fashion. Pictures provide that hint of moments in between--the moment when an eye lingers upon a turquoise lake, during a moment's pause in getting from one place to another.

The people I remember tonight are that turquoise lake to me--unreachable, unforgettable, unattainable, undeniable. I feel an inner gasp at the memory, as if I am resusicitated from drowning, into a world where I must breathe anew.

I read a 19th Century minister's book on Project Gutenberg, a Unitarian setting forth his faith, and questioning what he called the doctrine of "blood atonement". I get uncomfortable with extensive constructs about intricate theological ideas, all rendered into simple ideas.

I want people to stop telling me what they believe, and tell me how they are going to get the kill rate below 80% (if the local news is accurate) at a city animal shelter. I'll feel better when churches around here look less like gynasiums, and kids have more places to play.

Yet I search for those moments in the spaces in between, for the life eternal, for love and loss and rememberance--and God.