She’s clad only in a white, wet, silk blouse, as if just caught in a downpour. Her back is slightly turned toward the camera, the curves of hip and breast beckoning the onlooker toward their soft surfaces. Her dark eyes are cast downward, the lips slightly parted. Beads of water decorate her dark, exposed skin. She is 27 years old.
I look at her picture a couple of times a week. It hangs, poster size, crisscrossed by cobwebs, on the wall of one of the businesses on my delivery route. Near the picture sits a Hispanic woman, her face a patchwork of wrinkles, her body hunkered over a sewing machine, arthritic fingers stitching together tarps for a living. Her name is Mary. And she is the woman in the picture.
Several years ago, she showed this picture–but a wallet-sized photo then–to one of her young coworkers, who had it blown up and taped to the wall. There it has remained all this time, candy for the eyes of men, and liquor for the soul of Mary, to help numb the pain of lost years and fading beauty. I don’t judge her. For who among us does not desire to imbibe on memories of better, more lovely days, when youth was in full flower and aging seemed an impossibility.
I don’t think Mary and I are the only ones who have icons of an idyllic past we like to keep hidden away or publicly display. A photo of a younger you. A sports trophy. A broken wedding ring. A nameplate that reads, ‘Prof. Chad L. Bird’. Our hearts are half Amish at times, hankering to live in the past, for we dislike the present or fear the future. But therein lies a grave danger, for nostalgia can easily become the gateway drug to despair.
Jaroslav Pelikan famously said, ”Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” The same could be said about individuals and their own past. For our personal histories can be a thesaurus of life and experience from which we draw language to more fully articulate the meaning of our present and future. Or it can be a dusty antique shop whose aisles we haunt and whose memorabilia we venerate.
The forklift driver where Mary works recently told me that she has even more revealing pictures from her youth, but she won’t share any more of them. Maybe in her advancing age she’s leaning more toward modesty. Or perhaps, better yet, she’s learning contentment about who she is now instead of who she once was.
We have all had moments, perhaps years, in the past when life and happiness seemed at their peak. We wish we could freeze time and live then forever. But life doesn’t work that way. Unless we want to live in unreality, to pretend an existence, we must embrace the ebb and flow of life. And find in that ebb and flow, the joy of living every moment in the presence of our God who doesn’t change–who redeems our past, enriches our present, and ensures the hope of our future.