Events Gain Meaning As We Invest In Them
My adult children remember those days when we would drive from Chicago to New Haven annually for their summer break. I didn’t have a car in my first years in Chicago, so I would sign up for a drive-away vehicle and off we went. Once we took a small school bus. That was weird enough, but what made the trip memorable was one event. As we crossed Indiana into Ohio, a plastic tube – out of place by the gas pedal – broke and sprayed my right ankle with boiling oil and badly burnt my leg. We stopped. I got medication, fixed the leak, drove on. This was memorable. Nobody has forgotten it, even thirty years later. It has become legend. The scar remains on my leg.
Events are moments full of memories, images, importance, and the ability to alter lives. Events can have lasting significance. Your wedding, for example, determines your future. Funerals rehearse the past and hope for the future. Sending your oldest child to school for the first time marks a real transition for both of you.
Some historical events bear personal significance even if we were not involved. Think of the annual commemoration of the Bataan Death March. The number of survivors dwindles each year, and we stand to salute those men who endured this travesty of justice, civilian or military, and survived. This event shaped history for many people, so despite the fact that I have no personal connection to it, it has significance for me as a New Mexican and an American.
Strife during the Reformation in France colored my family history for generations. “We migrated to England because we were unwanted Protestants, Huguenots, driven out of France.” This mantra entered family legend and even today some family members bear a grudge against the French, almost 500 years after migration.
Events have a particular meaning if you invest in them. My family defined themselves as refugees who underwent religious persecution. This investment fired the family energy to an extent. When I was a child this event of migration, and its interpretation, was a legacy the family shared.
“And its interpretation.” That’s key to the significance of an event. Past events never come naked. They come clothed with interpretation; that makes them part of our consciousness, able to shape our action and thought. They are reference points for the soul and they come to us as story. Your wedding, for example, wears the cloak of commitment, fidelity, loyalty, and tenacity. To take this interpretation seriously means you persevere through times bad and good.
Here is one more event: Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, but his disciples experienced him alive again. The experience was overwhelming and unexpected and held eternal significance. In turn, they interpreted their experience for the generations to follow, in the hope that it would bear significance to others.
It does. Why go through Lent? Why bother with Pascha (Easter)? What other reason could possibly account for rehearsing these ancient stories, except that they yet hold meaning, significance, and value for we who invest in them?
They don’t mean anything to those who walk by, of course. Neither did the original life of Jesus. Countless people walked by. But for those willing to invest in the event of Christ, there is a return.
The Easter event offers fulfillment that can be experienced but not explained. Interpretation cannot convey its full meaning, just as your story cannot convey all that your marriage means. But the story can be an opening, an insight, and a way for others to enter the experience and make its meaning their own. More than this we cannot hope for.
published 16 March 2012