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Creating my own history

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I’m moving – yes, I’m moving yet again. I am hoping my nomadic stretch is coming to a close and that I can be really rooted in place and community for awhile. I have learned to call any place home – whether it is a place I stay for a night or a place I live in for a year or so. So once again my living space is filled with boxes. I really hate boxes. And I really hate moving. It will never cease to amaze me how every move I purge all the stuff I really don’t need only to discover that each move I carry more stuff over than the previous move. Admittedly, there are a few too many boxes of books.

My cat is really not thrilled with this whole moving thing. He was most displeased when I brought in numerous boxes and started backing up my library. He has tried to escape 4 times already today. Extra caution will be required whenever we leave the apartment as this will be his strongest ambition until either the boxes go or he escapes.

Once again, as I go through my stuff, I’m struck by the lack of history represented by my stuff. Very few items made it from my family’s home that held history in them – items that were mine, that were handed down to me, that had meaning. Items that were taken out of my room and items that perhaps were accidentally missed. It’s only stuff on one hand – but these tell a story, a story of my history. There are very few pictures that were sent with me. I have memories – and no one can take these away from me – but every now and then I wish I had a tangible reminder of where I come from.

Almost everything in my life in Toronto is new. There are a few people who knew me when I lived at home and I treasure these relationships. They can picture the home that I once called home. They can picture the people in my story. They know my history in some way. Everyone else learns it through story – through the telling of who I am from my lens and perspective.

In one of my psychology courses a few years ago, we learned of a man who had some stroke or serious condition that rendered his memory obsolete. He didn’t recognize his wife, his children, his home. Each day his wife patiently had to remind him that she was not some strange person. This person believed that he had fallen asleep and woken up that day for the first time in a long time. Each day. He had no recollection of the previous day. He didn’t recognize his handwriting accounting the day before. He believed that he had woken up from a long slumber and with no idea what happened to bring him to this place.

Sometimes I feel like my life is like that. Suddenly, on April 28, 2005, I found myself in Toronto with a drastically new way of life. Instead of with family, I was with friends until I found my own place. I was learning my way around a new city when I could ride the streets of my hometown on my bike with my eyes closed. The rules of engaging with my family had changed. I have never experienced such hateful words from anyone except those who once claimed they loved me. Sometimes I shake my head and wonder how anyone could be so unkind – and then it boggles me to no end when I am reminded that this ‘anyone’ is actually family members. In some ways, the family I thought I knew seems so foreign to me, so completely different from the family I have come to know that I have trouble connecting my life in Toronto with my life before.

Well, today I had a brilliant idea. Seems like connecting through material items with my past and kin is going to be pretty impossible. But it’s not impossible to create a new history with the people who form my family in Toronto (and beyond). I may not be able to have items that ground me in my childhood and teenage years – and years before I was born. But I can find and acquire items that speak to the formative years of being on my own, discovering who I am in Christ, friendships, university and ministry experiences.

So… my plan. I gave away much of my stuff in previous moves, including a lot of my kitchen ware and dishes. So I’ve asked friends and family for random dishes – I don’t want whole sets, but that random plate or bowl that doesn’t match anything, or the one glass that is left over from what used to be a set of 8. I’m collecting random plates, bowls, cups, mugs, and cutlery. Any colour, any size, any pattern. And I am going to write where they came from so that I have a story about people who give them to me, memories to tell and a history to each piece of my kitchen.

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  1. Barbara Sanjivi
    November 28, 2013 at 2:32 am

    Elizabeth, what a brilliant idea. You may not gave anything tangible from your early days but you do have the memories of some of your brothers and sisters. No one can take that away from you. I remember you as a small child when your mom would bring you to church. You always looked so sweet. Your hair in ringlets and a lovely dress on. You looked like a little princess. That’s how I remember you.

  2. John Sullivan
    November 28, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Elizabeth, once again a most insightful post that I can identify with. After spending the first twenty five years of my life the only son of Salvation Army officer parents, and four of those as an officer, the only family I knew were my relationships in the Army. Any relatives I had were in Ireland. When I left I sold all my possessions including my uniforms in order to pay off the Corps debt, and to purchase a one way bus ticket to my home in Vancouver. I did not have a penny in my pocket and thus nothing to eat on the long journey to my parents. I found a job cleaning the brass doors and stairwell rails and pickets at Birks Jewellers. One Sunday morning I was on my way to church when I heard an Army band and I broke into tears and followed them to the Holiness Meeting, only to have someone who knew me come and speak to me during the prayer meeting inquiring about “my soul”. After the service, others who knew me shunned me, and one old retired officer called me “Jonah the runaway prophet”, but I survived, earned enough money to go on to university, and discovered a whole new way of life and living. You are on your way! Many blessing on your heart and head. <

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