Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Telling the story

St. Lawrence River

If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, 
but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life. 
                                                                                           ~Siberian Elder
     In the St. Lawrence Seaway, between New York and Canada,  you can find over a thousand islands (1,864 islands - to be precise).  Any spot of land in the river that is above water all year round and has at least one tree counts as an island.  Some are tiny and uninhabited. Others served as pirate's lairs in years past.  Some are privately owned with only one home and a boathouse, while larger islands boast roads and housing developments.  Don and I spent several days last week visiting this beautiful and blessedly cool land known as the Thousand Islands region.
     And yes, it’s where Thousand Island salad dressing was created. There’s some debate over who actually first created the dressing but the most popular story goes like this.   In the early 20th century, Sophie LaLonde of Clayton, N.Y.,  created the recipe and served the dressing at a dinner party for her husband, who was a popular fishing guide. One of the dinner guests was actress May Irwin from Ontario. It was Irwin who christened the dressing  and asked for it to be served at the Herald Hotel in Clayton.  May Irwin also gave the recipe to George Boldt -  who happened to be the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The rest is history, bottled up and sold in every grocery store in the country. 
    Finding these tidbits of knowledge when I travel makes me happy.  I assumed that some marketing guru just made up that name for that dressing.  Who knew there was a story behind it?  
      But I should have known. There’s almost always a story behind things and it’s usually worth ferreting out.  Even the simplest things in life, something as ordinary as salad dressing, come with a story.  Stories connect us to things, to places, to each other.  I’ll never look at a bottle of Thousand Island Dressing again without remembering those beautiful days on Wellesley Island: a dinner overlooking a small marina, an island wedding and a trip around Lake Ontario.  Stories not only help us remember our lives, at their best, they define who we really are. 


       It was inevitable that we would think about it, I suppose. I had originally wanted to see "The Dark Knight Rises" on opening weekend, but after the horrific mass shooting at a midnight showing in Aurora, CO, I needed to wait a while. A week later, my friend Sarah and I went to a nice, safe Saturday afternoon matinee. I had expected that Aurora would be in the back of my mind, as I had heard many of my friends say it was in theirs when they went to see the movie, but I was unprepared for the sense of fear and sadness that rose up in me as the lights went down. In the seconds before the movie began, I whispered to Sarah, "I can't help thinking about the shooting." Before I had even finished the sentence, she answered, "I was just going to say the same thing." The first time a gun was fired onscreen, I flinched, and my eyes went automatically to the emergency exit doors in the front corners of the theater. It happened several more times during the movie, and it didn't help that employees with red flashlights came in periodically and checked the doors to make sure they were still secure. I wondered if they were doing the same in other movies, or if this was the only one they thought presented a potential danger. It seemed a little
ridiculous. Copycats are possible, I know, but in all likelihood the next mass murderer will come up with an original plan, one that no one is prepared for any more than the patrons of the Aurora theater were prepared at the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises."
     The movie itself deals with issues of violence and heroism, fear and mortality, and so my mind was often on the victims of the tragedy. I thought of the three young men who died trying to shield their girlfriends from bullets. I remembered stories I heard on the news of some moviegoers who tried to pull others to safety across the floor, often in vain. I wondered what I would have done in their place, and I was terrified. I can't put myself in their place. My imagination won't go there. But I can imagine the scene at the hospitals a little while later, as dozens of shooting victims were brought in and triaged. I see gunshot wounds as a chaplain in the emergency room often, though not usually more than two or three at a time. I can imagine sitting with the victims' families in the waiting room, bringing them water and tissues, trying to keep them calm, relaying updates in layman's terms until the doctor could come and speak with them. I can imagine doing my best to be for them, in pastoral care terms, "a non-anxious presence." But my prayer would be, as it always is, that I would be more than that.
     When Mark Twain was devastated by his daughter's death, he wrote to a minister friend of his that he hardly wanted to hear from anyone, because well-meaning people could say such hurtful things. "But I do want you to write to me," Twain told his friend. "You have the touch that heals, not lacerates." There have been some very hurtful words tossed around by high profile people about the shooting. I hope the victims and their families have not heard them. I hope that some of the people around them have a touch that heals, or at least that doesn't wound. I hope, and I believe, that for those who died, the last thing they felt wasn't a bullet tearing flesh, but the touch of a loving God who is always present with those who suffer. Surely there was healing in that touch, even there, even then, that was greater than all the fear. "The Dark Knight Rises" ended on a note of hope and redemption, which I think is why I liked it so much. All the stories I really believe in come around to such an ending, eventually.


Dawn Brazell is on vacation. Filling in for her this week is guest writer, Jan Culpepper. 
 Jan is a mother, pastor and friend.   She blogs regularly at SimplyJan. 

     They are a part of summer, you know – these afternoon thunderstorms marked by dark clouds, torrential rain, bright flashes of lightning, and rumbles of thunder. They are as much a part of a Charleston summer as sand and sunshine, Riverdogs baseball, and hamburgers on the grill. They often seem to pop up out of nowhere and dissipate just as quickly, leaving behind a summer sauna. Sometimes they leave us with a promise as well. After this particular storm, I spotted not just a rainbow, but a double rainbow outside my window. A rainbow is a reminder of God’s presence and God’s promise. A double rainbow is a reminder that God’s grace exceeds our every expectation.
      They are a part of life, you know – these challenges marked by anxiety, uncertainty, sleepless nights, and chewed fingernails. They are as much a part of life as the rewards of hard work, the love of family, and the laughter of friends. They often pop up out of nowhere and dissipate just as quickly, hopefully leaving you stronger than before. I have tackled some scary challenges this summer, things like publicly claiming my identity as a writer and sharing a secret from my past that has followed me for over 30 years. Doing these things have required giant steps of faith. I am stronger than I was before. That much I know. I am so thankful for reminders along the way – things like encouragement from family and friends and signs along the way assuring me I am on the right path. Oh, and not just a rainbow, but a double rainbow to remind me that no matter what challenges I face along the way, God’s presence and God’s promise is with me always, exceeding my every expectation.

"Life is like a rainbow.  You need both the sun and the rain to make its colors appear."


1 comment:

  1. Anita, I visited the Thousand Islands with my parents as a kid and reading your story brought back some wonderful memories!

    Jan, I loved your sentiments and the way you said them. Thanks for sharing.

    MaryAnne Massey