Time Traveling With God

Tears Erupted to Water Those Memories, Now as Fresh as When They Were Made.

Duo Dickinson / 4.26.21

Yesterday an early hour in the office seemed like a day. It was quite wonderful. Other times, hours are gone in an instant, or worse, sometimes memory and the present moment lose their distinction.

Our awareness and understanding of time influence our perception of it, which can be as murky as insomnia, where a minute lasts an hour (or four hours becomes a minute). But in the flow of living, some triggers make 60 years vanish. A smell causes a locker room from 40 years ago to return. Bells bring Buffalo to Connecticut. Instant mashed potatoes instantly transform any day into Thanksgiving 1966. Music does the same thing. A song by The Who makes me the Captain of the Football Team again. These triggers, however, are not always positive.

Last night, a song came over our hifi speakers. Never a favorite, not thought about much, but “My Name Is Luka” by Suzanne Vega filled our living room. Its tune is pleasant, but its meaning harrowing. It is written in the words of an 8- or 9-year-old abused child. It wasn’t a big hit, but was heard in our rotation because we saw her sing live once — a decade ago.

Its meaning changed at this hearing. The song (and this post) were written because the memories of the songwriter are implanted more deeply the earlier they are plowed into the furrows of the brain. The pre-teen Luka rationalizes her terror filled childhood in the song:

I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud

They only hit until you cry
After that you don’t ask why

Her words were heard. Tears erupted to water those memories, now as fresh as when they were made. But the time warps abound as the years grow, filled with memories.

I hear 1964 whenever the words “Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield” are sung: the words, literally, scream off the hymnal — then and now. It was and becomes 1964 because a complicated, even cruel, childhood is largely remembered for the fear felt at that time. Those years never left physical damage, or even discomfort, but were every bit as terrorizing as the show Mad Men depicted.

We are tender in our tiny years. Vulnerability makes pain validate fear, and the scars of the fulfilled promise of pain can become fresh. Some memories simply do not go away but are buried by the slow deposits of time — only to be unearthed in an instant. It is surprising that we are unchanged in these triggers. We create lives that avoid connections beyond those we want. The more we control our lives, the more God can be relegated to the world we create. But we did not create the lives we lead. Maybe these triggers reveal that. Control was instantly lost when Suzanne Vega sang, maybe because I never had control in the first place.

I, and most everyone I know, finds it easy to avoid God in our lives with every achievement and triumph. But the triggers to the broken realities in my life connect me to God. Those vulnerabilities, soon fully manifest in my ever-older body and mind, are the places fear is fulfilled. The triggered memories are the living reality of God’s grace, because we have survived our fears. In these moments of pain and the reminder of care, God sometimes feels like an uninvited time-traveler in our lives. But the truth is that he never left.