Making Meaning

(This “musing” appears in The Interfaith Observer online magazine this month.)

My wife and I drive out of the city.  On the way, we share stories with each other.
We laugh about how complicated and intertwined the tales of our lives have become with each other, and with and among the people we know.
We are amazed at how disparate events and people come together over time, in surprising combinations.
We get out in the country and see a lonesome hill and we get out of the car and climb it.
At the top we hold hands and take deep breaths.
We walk down the other side, and at the bottom is a pile of rusty junk.
I collect some of it and put it in the car.
I’m not sure why I pick it up, but I sense there are reasons.
At home I put the junk in a cardboard box in the garage.
On a Saturday morning, I drive alone to the desert mountains and hike along walls of pale stone.
I pluck a stem of sagebrush and crush it under my nose with my fingers.
I wonder how that scent floods my mind with memories of other hikes in other landscapes.
I ask:  Do those moments, stored and now released, belong to me or to those times and places?
Am I but a wind blowing through wilderness, making pine needles moan and cottonwood leaves flutter?
Need I be anything more than these questions I ask as I pause on the trail?

At work, I listen to a student tell me that she doesn’t know why she is alive, and can’t find other students who will listen to her predicament.

I listen to a university staff person tell me about having an affair and how it made a mess of her life.
I make vegetarian pizzas and serve them to students in our Interfaith Council as they discuss what they and their religions have to say about life after death.
I lift chairs off stacks to arrange them in a patio where I will be leading a memorial service for a student who committed suicide.
I fuss with image files to fit them in an e-newsletter. 

At home, I read a story to our five-year-old granddaughter, and then we chase each other around our apartment and yell.
I edit an academic paper for my daughter, who is in graduate school at the university where I work. 

At church I feel the tears welling behind my eyes as we stand in line to receive communion.
A mystery is being completed in us as we eat bread dipped in wine.

I get a call telling me it’s time to drive 400 miles north to my home town because a friend of mine is dying.

I sit next to the hospital bed and stroke his forehead and chant peace and love into his ear as he dies.
We were friends for 44 years.
On a Saturday afternoon, rummaging through the garage, I find the rusty junk in the box and take it out.
Without a plan, I assemble it in different ways, to see what could be made of it all.
A steel spring, a metal strap, a corroded piece of a toy Tonka truck, and a rusty little tube.
Finally I’m pleased with a construction of the pieces.  With tin-snips and epoxy glue I put it together.
I call it my self-portrait.
I take it inside our apartment and put it on a shelf and stare at it.
It gives my life a meaning
That makes me laugh.

Selfportrait

About Jim Burklo

Rev. Jim Burklo is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. An ordained United Church of Christ pastor, he is the author of three books in print, OPEN CHRISTIANITY (2000), BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS (2008), and HITCH-HIKING TO ALASKA: THE WAY OF SOULFUL SERVICE (2013). See more about him at jimburklo.com .

  • http://www.janishutchinson.com JANIS

    This was delightful!


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