April 5, 2017
“You cannot make Remembrance grow
When it has lost its Root —
The tightening the Soil around
And setting it upright
Deceives perhaps the Universe
But not retrieves the Plant —
Real Memory, like Cedar Feet
Is shod with Adamant —
Nor can you cut Remembrance down
When it shall once have grown —
Its Iron Buds will sprout anew
However overthrown – “ -Emily Dickinson
So there I was.
In a hotel room in Boston – two Wednesday evenings ago.
Staring blankly at my laptop screen, which was staring just as blankly back at me (I’m not sure who was winning the contest).
Truthfully, it was probably a tie…
We were both equally at a loss for words.
All of my dearly beloved Word documents, downloads, files, photos, papers, sermons (including the one for that coming Sunday), ceremonies, templates, spreadsheets, and saved things were now dearly departed.
In the blink of an eye, my everything had vanished into nothingness. Every last one of my remembrances uprooted. Every memory.
My life had flashed before my eyes and faded to black. Disappearing (and dissolving) into dark matter.
The tech-support souls had done all they could. They tried to sneak me through all the unofficial backdoors. Every slick millennial parlor trick in the (Mac)Book.
My hard drive was no longer.
I can’t imagine there is ever a ‘good’ time for your hard drive to crash.
However, this moment in time (the night before my appointment with the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee) seemed the most untimely of all time.
This is the hour for which all UU ministers-to-be begin diligently preparing as soon as they are accepted into seminary. Two yellow brick roads (your studies and your internship) merge at this intersection – culminating in your presence at the UUA Headquarters in downtown Boston.
You stand before a cloud of witnesses (a panel of fellowshipped ministers) who are tasked with deciding whether or not to give you what they all already have – fellowship.
You light a chalice, preach a sermon, and then answer about 45 minutes of questions on a number of competencies (UU History, RE, World Religions, Spiritual Development, Social Justice, Worship Arts, etc).
The MFC folks are not unlike the TSA folks at the airport, in a sense. They pull you to the side before you pass through the ‘ordained minister’ gate, double-check your identity, and look through your baggage (metaphorically speaking).
And they’re clear we all will have baggage.
Mostly, they want to make sure you know what’s in there and are addressing it. That there are no ticking time-bombs, or bags that need to be checked. And that no one else packed your bag for you.
So you are with the MFC for an hour, roughly.
Or somewhere in between.
You are then escorted to a nearby holding room, where you wait for the longest 15 minutes of your life. You’d swear time was standing still. Or moving backward.
When the smoke clears, the jury of your would-be peers brings you back into the room, and they reflect for a few minutes about how they experienced you.
They type it all up in a letter that gets mailed to you later – which is great, because you really don’t hear 99% of what the panel says to you in that moment. You only really hear the verdict.
The MFC assesses you on a spectrum from 5 (lowest) to 1(highest).
Either a ‘2’ or ‘1’ gets you ministerial fellowship.
You are then a newly minted minister.
Very much ordain-able. And employable (thankfully).
So, I had all these grand plans for that night before the interview (my MFC-Eve). I’d do a deep-dive through my 98 page packet, review my notes, peruse the sermon I’d prepared, and google a list of last-minute refreshers.
And then – my hard drive was overthrown.
And there was no retrieving this plant, as far as I could tell.
No rescuing the remnants. No recovering the roots, I feared.
In the silence of my lament, I began thinking about memory.
Who was I in the absence of my collected things – my random access memories?
Surely, I was more than my remembrances… Greater than (not equal to) the sum of my stuff.
Don’t all things – even virtual things – come undone at some point? Don’t all castles made of sand – as Hendrix once posited – fall in the sea eventually?
I then had this strange moment of backhanded bliss.
A reversal of mis-fortune.
I didn’t really ‘need’ my packet.
It was a 98 page reflection of me. If I knew myself, I knew my packet. I could stand on my own two cedar feet. Adamantly. For some strange and serendipitous reason, I’d printed my MFC sermon a day earlier.
And I could articulate the rest of my essence without the safety net.
It was strangely liberating to not have my hard drive. To release the fear of not knowing enough or being enough. Of failure. Of humiliation.
I’d probably just lost everything I’d written in the last 4 years of my life. And – it didn’t really matter. I could re-create those recipes. Or variations on those themes, or altogether different streams of consciousness.
It all lived in me. My real memory. My soul.
I remembered fondly a most soulful patient I had at Johns Hopkins for whom I’ll forever have a soft place in my heart-drive.
He had fairly advanced dementia – a particular kind that ‘reset’ his short-term memory every 15 minutes or so. He would start over from scratch 4 times every hour – like clockwork.
A suddenly blank slate.
He’d tell you the same story every time, as if it was the first time. And he was easily the most present patient on the floor (and the most joyful). All he had was ‘now’. And he was incredibly thankful for it.
And he has remained quite memorable to me (despite the absence of his own memory).
Certainly, there were ministers before there were hard drives, I thought. Clergy were credentialed long before there were computers.
So I exhaled. Ordered some rather timely (and tasty) Pad Thai. And slept.
Soundly, if memory serves.
And I saw the MFC. And they saw a ‘1’ in me.
No flight restrictions. No delays or cancellations. I’d been granted fellowship.
I was cleared for takeoff – and could now move freely about the cabin of ministry.
I gave thanks.
And then proceeded to spend that Saturday morning reconstructing my sermon for that Sunday morning from scratch. All 19 pages of it.
Strangely enough, the text flowed from my fingertips with startling ease and recall. The old iron buds sprouting anew. Reconstituting almost faster than I could type them out.
The universe had chopped down my tree, but the roots were mercifully untouched. And as I was setting up my new-old (refurbished) laptop the following Monday. I had a smile-inducing epiphany.
I discovered (quite accidentally) a great deal of the memories I thought I’d lost.
Very much alive – in my sent mail folder.
My ‘share drive’, so to speak.
Everything I’d shared with others still existed. Both my present and future were restored through my past connections and communications. Sermons, set lists, services. and snapshots – almost all recovered from the interdependent web (of which we are all a part).
So- the moral of the story?
And back up your hard drive.
Of Evident Invisibles,