Month: November 2011

an arbitrary memory

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My dad is in his old blue Ford truck, spreading out rocks to stop flooding in a low spot in the muddy driveway. The stones are round polished ones — those that water has pre-shaped. At the time, the truck still had the front seat with its maroon and yellow stripes.

I am in a red dress with tights — the thick cotton kind that are warm, but itchy and uncomfortable. The kind that come woven with multi-layered diamond patterns. The kind I detested.

I’m pushing one of those toys that is basically a handle attached to a globe with balls inside that pop and chime with motion. I don’t know what they are called. They were a child’s equivalent of a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t function. They make an interesting sound though — at least to a child.

We are at the house. The one I hated.

I don’t know why this particular memory is stamped into the snapshots that are left of my childhood. It seems so insignificant compared to the events that played out around that time. I can’t say exactly what portion of the chronology of my life it fits in, but I have a vague idea. Like an old Polaroid, the edges have faded and the colors yellowed.

I wonder if I have hemmed memories together to create the details of this one. It’s possible I wasn’t wearing the red dress I picture when I think back on it. As evidence of this possibility, it’s odd that I’m wearing the same one in a photo taken several years later, my pixie stick legs bare in that picture, a piece of string belting it.

Maybe that’s how childhood memories still exist. Our minds fill in the gaps we have forgotten, until only the main plot remains accurate. Try as we might, we can’t alter that story line.

And so this picture remains filed away, in the recesses of my memory. I take it out every once in awhile to look it over and wonder why I still have it.

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joe

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“You’re not going to print my name, are you?”

I paused, my pen poised over my notebook, thinking, That’s exactly what I’m planning to do. My deadline for the story on American ex-patriots in Berlin was looming. And I only had two other subjects. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting from an American, but then again, Joe may not really truly be an American.

He sat on a sideways crate, the only seat left in this bar on Dresdener Strasse by the time he arrived to the Thursday night gathering of ex-patriots. A velvet curtain hung as a back drop. A red chandelier and red walls made the back room of the pub glow in a rouge hue through cigarette smoke.

We went through the normal negotiations when someone is hesitant to commit to an interview and eventually settled into questioning. Joe moved to Germany from New York City when he was 13 with his parents, he told me. He grew up in Cologne. He worked in the IT industry in Berlin at the time.

His words didn’t have the typical American accent, buttressed by blurry r’s. But they didn’t carry the strong consonants and the telling emphasis on the first syllable of words either. His pompous was more of the European kind. The way his hand motions guided his words, like a conductor of an orchestra, was a U.S. trademark.

Joe retained his American citizenship and used the word “they” as he spoke of Germans, as one speaks of foreigners. Yet, by the time of the interview, he had lived in Germany for about 30 years. I paused, trying to figure him out. Who was he? One of his feet seemed grounded on American soil, with the other stretching to reach the German border. Yet the span across the Atlantic was too great, leaving him caught in in the updrafts and wave crests of what is in between.

How much of his eccentricity was part of his character and how much was the result of a mixed cultural identity? I wondered.

“Do you feel more German or more American?” I asked him.

“Neither,” he said, taking a sip of wine while everyone else drank beer.

He liked Berlin, he told me, where he moved to two years prior. It felt safe. He liked the freedom. “It reminds me of New York City, but without all the problems.”

Joe, if that really is his name, wasn’t to be part of the article I wrote about American ex-pats for a German newspaper. He didn’t fit the rubric.

He just didn’t fit.

all

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I’m sitting at my desk staring at the numbers. They look dismal.

Still, for some reason lately God is urging me to tithe on my gross income. Since tithing became a habit, I’ve only been able to muster the net. He’s never bothered me about it before.

Now in the toughest month since I have given up a steady income, I suddenly feel God asking for more.

The timing is inconvenient.

God, if I tithe on the gross, I won’t be able to live on the remaining amount for next two and a half weeks, I reason with him.

Silence.

God, this is crazy. Why now?

Silence.

I’ve given you my job, my income, my life … What more do you want?

I want it all.

Somehow I don’t think we’re talking about just money anymore. The words from a worship song play at the fringes of my mind.

“You won’t relent until you have it all. My heart is Yours.”

I always thought those lyrics were a bit ironic. If your heart is His, why won’t He relent? I question the songwriter hypothetically.

Yet, now, I understand what it feels like to think you’re giving everything, then watch Him show the areas you are holding back.

I can’t this time, I tell him. Next time, I resolve, scrawling the information on the appropriate lines on the check. I hesitate with my pen over the amount box.

With tears rising to my eyes, I write out the gross amount.

I don’t like the moments when my lack of trust shines through, after he’s provided time and time again, sometimes in miraculous ways. Sometimes I wonder if He grows weary of me clinging to my independence and control. Yet even that question lacks understanding of His grace.

Each time I ask, as if He has never come through before, God please come through this time.

And each time, despite my doubt, He does. That’s what I cling to now.