I love the way the Autumn section of Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons begins. Christie introduces us to a window above a staircase, at the center of the house. At the end of their first day at Maplehurst, wearily climbing the stairs with her husband, she sees “cool light puddled at our feet” and looks up to see the full moon centered in the window.
I wonder, did the builders orient the house — built the year after Edison invented the light bulb, but decades before electricity was common in farmland — so the full moon would step right over that window’s threshold? And what are the chances that the family’s first night there would be a night of a full moon? (OK, “1 in 28,” I can hear someone thinking.)
After helping us look both through and at that window, she writes:
Our lives are stories built of small moments. Ordinary experiences. It is too easy to forget that our days are adding up to something astonishing. We do not often stop to notice the signs and wonders. The writing on the wall. But some days we do.
Testimony. That’s one kind of story, but it means different things to different ears (and might trigger different gut feelings). Before I go farther with that, let’s pause, maybe with a cup of tea or coffee or a freshly blended smoothie, and listen to Christie read us the chapter “This Is a Testimony.” Playing time is nine minutes.
Testimony. It can mean a formal spoken or written statement given in court, made under oath, in answer to and often shaped by a professional questioner. Evidence or proof of something: The empty plates are a wordless testimony that the children all liked tonight’s dinner. An accounting of a conversion or spiritual experience. At its simplest, at root level, the word means “a witness.”
So much in the neighborhood of Maplehurst is testimony to those who lived there before. “We live so much of our lives in places that seem to have no past,” she writes. But “autumn in this countryside of old stone walls, covered bridges, and somber Amish horse-drawn buggies is working a subtle change in me. … [I]t sometimes feels as if we share these fields with those who cared for them so long ago.”
These are the questions I’m asking myself, from reading this chapter and elsewhere in the Autumn portion. And here’s the invitation for you to find one of these as a doorway into this week’s discussion.
- What do I know about the places I have lived? How has that shaped my sense of where I am, and how I fit into its larger story?
- The bowler hat left behind, the window, the root cellar, the plaque under a spreading oak tree, the copper penny light of a neighbor’s cherry tree, the newly painted dining room, the information about four-way stops — all help me to both see and feel this place I have never been to. What would I tell others about the place I am now?
- Who is my cloud of witnesses? How are their stories still influencing mine?
- “I have finally figured out something important,” Christie writes. “Testimony isn’t about measuring up. It’s about opening our eyes.” If we have stories that amount to a testimony of spirit (and I believe we all do, though not all of them are religious), do they need revision? How might we tell those stories to someone who does not share our worldview? Does that bring us to an honesty in the story that we might not work towards when we’re talking with or writing to someone who’s likely to rubber-stamp it with an amen?
- Christie’s own good questions: “Do we make our dreams come true? Or do we only watch and wait, ready to embrace them when their time has come?”
We do not often stop to notice. But some days we do. “Stand still long enough, and you will feel each day turning. You will feel even yourself turning.”
Those are some of the places that stand out in boldface for me. What leaps off the page for you? If you liked English (or “language arts”) class, and a question here makes you lean forward in your seat and raise your arm high or blurt out an answer, let us hear you. And if all these questions make you look out the window and long for recess, let us hear you.
Focus your microscope on a single sentence and examine one word at the molecular level. Fly your drone over the whole landscape and pick out a theme. There are many ways into this house, and into this book, and into your own story built of small moments.
Every one is welcome.