This past week, the day before the devastating earthquake in Italy, I read a couple of posts by Sheila on the Daily Espresso blog. Two of them, “Old and Abandoned” and “Around Town: A Journey into the Past”, really hit a chord with me. I have just returned from Europe myself and was so thrilled to roam the streets, once occupied by swashbuckling pirates, and Napoleon-era shopkeepers or tradesmen. The house we were staying in had been built in 1530! I thrilled at the beam of wood, laying on the mantle piece, signed by the 16th century carpenter. Oh, the stories this house could tell! Consequently, Sheila’s piece about a particular building in Italy, with which she and her husband are familiar, really struck a chord….
What always strikes me in Europe is the age of the building and how something so worn down, dilapidated, rusted, and faded can be so incredibly beautiful. Sheila, nailed it on the head when she said, “ [they]… resound [with] the story of the lives lived in them.” Isn’t that it? Isn’t it the pictures, the people, the lives, and the history that float before our eyes like rose-colored dreams, like ethereal memories, that fill us with the thrill of imagining lives lived within the walls. The beauty that is in history. The beauty in a worn-cobblestone road. The beauty in a peeling green shutter, hanging on one rusted hinge. The stories. Despite it all, despite the age and poverty, despite the inability to repair what is broken, the shutters, the cobblestones, and the peeling paint hold memories. They hold warmth, they hold laughter, they hold tears. They are home – the place of births, marriages, and deaths; meals together, and deep restful sleeps. They are simple, uncomplicated and humble…just like the stable in which Jesus was born. And the walls,… they are what hold it all together. They are like the cover of a thick book, the pages of which are the people and the histories that have lived within and without. They are the frame of our memories. They keep those memories safe. Even when those that have lived there are long gone. Unless….unless the walls, too, disappear.
The earth’s crust, impatient, tired of pushing against its brother, suddenly wins the battle and shifts. Shutters lie amidst crumbled walls, twisted wrought iron, a torn page, a shoe,…an abandoned meal, caked in dust. The frame of the memories…gone. Not just abandoned by the laughter and tears. But gone. The dust-caked “nonnas” sitting with their one and only remaining possession – a quilt, or a cup; maybe even just the clothes they are wearing. Their faces as empty as their hands. Hopes dashed. The novel of their lives…turned to dust. Pages of memories scattered. A city of memories, a lifetime of laughter and tears, reduced to rubble.
While as followers of Jesus, we may know and believe in our hearts that this is just a temporary home, our sinful human minds often question God’s actions in our lives or the lives of others,…especially at times like this, when we see entire cities, thousands of people’s homes, and hundreds of lives destroyed. We are created to be in relationship – not just with God but with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We may be on a pilgrimage to our Heavenly Home, but while we are here, we do create homes – sacred places in our lives, where we share our life’s journeys with our loved ones. So, the destruction of our earthly home, is the removal of any physical memory of our past. Indeed it is the removal of any physical evidence that we have, in fact, lived. And in cases such as this, it is often the removal of the very people with whom we have shared this home.
We can take heart, however, in the fact that God has blessed His followers with a home beyond this fragile earthly home of ours. He has blessed us with a permanent home that is waiting for us, just around the bend. And He has blessed us with memories that will always remain in our hearts,…memories that can not be destroyed by an earthquake.
It is easy to say these things when it is not your home, your family, your livelihood that has been destroyed…I realize that. And I am human and I too weep for the losses in Italy. I too ask, “Why?”…as I watch an elderly man crumpled over the rocky debris of what was once his home; as I see parents search frantically for their children, whom they tucked in safely in their beds, just hours before; as I see the walls that held laughter, joy, and tears at the grandchildren’s first steps; walls that held on tight to the only photo of long-dead parents. I see the blank stares of the survivors. I hear the mouths not uttering a word. The silence. The walls, as mute as the people who once occupied them. And the people who will come and will never know.
God, let these souls hear You in the silence. Let them feel You in the silence. Let them have Hope again. And bring them one day to their Forever Home with You.
Do read Sheila’s blog, particularly her post on “Old and Abandoned” and “Around Town: A Journey into the Past”…and think of the walls that can no longer talk because they have turned to rubble. Think of the people whose voices are now as mute as the walls’ voices. And pray for Hope to enter their lives again.
(All images appearing here were taken by myself and my husband.)