Do y’all remember when Preston and I were writing all those letters last year, Tuesdays and Thursdays, writing out this ramble through faith and life and coffee late at night and Gossip Girland all the rest? And how, those letters, they were the beginning of something wondrous? We are beginning again, new and the same, our selves familiar and not. You can read his last letter to me here.
Do you remember our first Skype conversation two years ago? You had said it would be good to meet, I ran 7 miles I was so nervous, down the winding road we walked down a little ways your first afternoon here, two years later. You had said it was probably about time we met, given all that we had already shared, all the words that had tumbled out between us, that very long analogy I’d given you about my friends as doctors in a hospital (I still don’t think we know what I am, actually, maybe that’s something to ponder), the lists of books…
Before I got on Skype to talk to you, I listened to “Tonight, Tonight” by Hot Chelle Rae. Yes. It’s true. It had been a song of the summer up in the office where I worked, the way we cheered ourselves up for a long afternoon of answering questions about Orientation, the size of the mattresses from frantic moms in Target holding two different sets of sheets. I listened to it in my car loud on the way home sometimes, and something about it made me feel, for a second, foolish and completely unselfconscious. So I played it three times after that long run and then you called.
We already know this story, but I think memory has a funny and beautiful way of moving between people, passed back and forth, and it is never quite the same memory. Maybe that means it always hid more than we thought it did. Each telling changes what it was; it isn’t the same story. I don’t know if you listened to music or if you ordered a special kind of coffee to impress me (I was drinking iced tea out of a plastic cup, so, nothing too fancy for me). And the details that we labor over as writers, the things we aim to pin down with our words – things like, the night here was a deeper blue than it normally is, the kind that inks the spaces between the stars, tracing their outlines in the sky
maybe those are the things that escape us on purpose.
Maybe as writers, we have to be bested by our stories, work as hard as we can to capture them on paper only to realize that they are already away, laughing a little as they tear up and off, into the field, into the future, into the retellings that we don’t know how to enter just yet.
I think when I am asked in a kitchen somewhere, with faces and eyes that are widened in surprise that I ever lived a different life than the one I’ll be wrapped up in, when they (the crowd of them, whoever they are, whatever they are named) ask me, I will tell a new story. Every time. And it will be new to me in the telling and the retelling.
Writing is good for us, Preston, probably more because of what it teaches us we know nothing about and cannot say and we have spun this tale around and around and around again, how it is good because it brings us nearer a better silence. But I think about it with memory – that memory of listening to “Tonight, Tonight” in my bedroom before that first Skype call, now as we round our way towards what must be dozens (dare I say it, hundreds? it feels like that), even now –
the memory is a new story.
I think about the Law God gave, how much was about the work of remembrance. Establish this as a memorial, He declares, knowing that in an old memory is new life.
All of this because the song played on the radio, and I remembered two years and a handful of days ago. All this, because I think we must be a people who practice the work of remembrance, who make things new by their retelling, who are bested by the stories more alive than we think them.