The image above, which has been the header picture for the last years this blog has existed, is very meaningful to me.
That piece of sky was where I grew up. Which sounds strange, but shouldn't really because of the apartment tops peeping into the picture. Because that's exactly what apartments are, once the actual building's been torn down--which is what happened to my childhood home almost seven years ago.
That phrase threatens a deluge of sentimental nostalgia, I know, but I feel embarrassed at 22 to be very nostalgic, so don't worry.
However, it's thought-provoking to realize that I spent so many years of my life in a home that was so real and so important--down to the scratched parquet floors, doors with flimsy locks which we as naughty children knew exactly how to manoeuvre for various pranks, the whitewash coming off in neat round patches where we'd stuck up our drawings with BlueTac, the 'growth-wall' (possibly the only blank wall in the house) which we used to record the heights of everyone who lived in the house or visited the house, including our rabbit. So very real and tangible at that point of time. So necessary. And now merely a space in the air.
I spent all those years of my life in a space in the air. There's no mark of me there at all now--no stain on smudge in the sky to indicate all the intense living which took place there. It's sobering and just the littlest bit painful--there's the nostalgia for you--but also a very poignant reminder to me of what the word 'temporal' fully means in a Biblical sense, as the antonym of 'spiritual.'
We know the definition of temporal but we don't grasp the full impact of it. Which is understandable because all we've known is being temporal, and only sometimes we glimpse of our capability for anything more in vague longings and emotions.
To realize that actually, that is what life here on earth is. Very tangible. Very important and necessary, and legitimately so during that period of time. But one day all that will simply cease to exist--something greater will take its place--you won't have the satisfaction of being able to point and say 'ah, there's my mark.' 'There's where I was--I did that.' We won't spend our time in heaven looking down and reminiscing about our time on earth, the way we do when we look at old photo albums or get together with old friends.
Perhaps all we really take away is our memories, and how our experience changed who we are. I have so many memories of that home--beautiful, ecstatic, painful, important, and sometimes simply that warm swelling feeling pressing against your ribs, that quiet full feeling of contentment. I know the marks all those experiences, all that time I spent behind those now nonexistent walls, looking out of the now invisible windows, have made on me. But that's all. To cling to the physical entity of it, to mourn and idealize it as if there was some sort of magic in the concrete and plaster of that house, would be foolish, would be the sort of unhelpful and soppy nostalgia one sometimes sees and is vicariously embarrassed by in adults.
I remember when we first moved out we mourned, as sincerely and extravagantly as only children on the brink of growing up--consciously on the brink of growing up--could. Moving the last box out was a cruel ritual which left us close to tears. Every day in the new home made the old one a beautiful idyll so even memories of the leaking toilet became mildly romantic. Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov captured this sense of yearning so deeply associated with looking back on childhood: 'There is nothing a man cherishes more than the memories of his early childhood in his parents' home; this is always true as long as there was at least a little love and harmony in his family.' We made plans, I remember, if one of us became a millionaire (no big deal; no pressure) to recreate our home--not just the actual apartment we stayed in but the whole complex, and move all our dearly loved neighbours back into their old places (assuming they'd be overjoyed to be reunited with us.)
We knew we were being silly even as we planned this in all seriousness. What really lasted, what mattered at all, in fact, was how our memories and experiences in that home changed and affected us, made an impact on us and thence on the future.
One day in heaven, perhaps we'll look back and laugh to think how important everything here once was to us. The way we laugh when we remember how we once thought our life was over because of that dumb thing said or unglamorous picture someone posted online.
One day we'll be able to see that everything here crowding and pulling at our hearts and minds was just temporary--part of being alive, part of being temporal, important perhaps while it lasted but not even close to the ultimate meaning and purpose we were made for, except in how they changed us.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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