A small envelope arrived through the mail the other day with a return address from Colorado. Inside the letter there was a note from my cousin who lives there, and a thick piece of yellow card stock that had been folded over once. When I opened it there were two Kodachrome slides inside: relics from a bygone way of remembering special and not so special events. Before I read the note I immediately held the slides to the light of our kitchen window, and was greeted in one of them by the sight of three familiar faces looking back at me. One of those faces was mine, and the others belonged to my mother and father. The photo was taken not long after the death of my grandfather (when I was nine years old), as family members gathered together from distant places to attend his memorial service. One of my cousins had captured my little family in one photograph, and the other slide included an image of my father standing next to his sister.
It was such a gift to receive my cousin’s letter and its contents. The slides had emerged when she was cleaning out some closets and she wanted me to have them. Each time I held one of the slides to the light, a few more memories would come alongside me, tugging at my sleeve for attention. As if to say: do you remember Dad’s coat, the one that he is wearing in that photograph, the way it smelled after he had worn it in the rain? Do you see Mom’s face? How unhappy she is to be cornered by someone with a camera? And look at you, says the voice of memory. You don’t look too pleased either…clearly less than thrilled to be dressed up in scratchy, new clothes, probably purchased just for the occasion.
The two sturdy Kodachrome slides that I hold up against the light are tiny time machines. They carry me back to a day that I hadn’t thought about for many years. They invite me to wonder at the inner life of my parents; the feelings, or fears, or hopes that moved them but cannot be captured on film. And when I’ve taken in what I can from the past, I set the slides aside, and return to the land of the present where I can see my life from a fresh perspective. As I ponder my place in the world, I wonder anew how my life can build on the past, and how I can best use the power in me to bring peace and hope to the world for such a time as this.
These are the kinds of questions that my parents faced, and now they are mine to answer. So I pray, in the words of the Round Hill Community Church Prayer, to be part of a church family that longs to be an instrument in God’s hands for good: here, near here, and far from here. And one day, when another generation comes across images of us, may they see a community of faith that devoted every ounce of its energy, resources and skill to the creation of a world at peace with itself, full of good will for all.