June 11, 2021
If you know, you know.
42 stairs from the street. It’s a line from The Old Apartment by the band Barenaked Ladies. Mark, Jen, Paul, and I were in Charlotte last weekend for their concert. Toad the Wet Sprocket and Gin Blossoms opened the show, and all three bands were great. We’ve seen BNL twice now, which is how I happened to be wearing one of their tshirts. My shirt said
Like I said…if you know, you know. We left our hotel Sunday to walk to a nearby pub for dinner before the concert. We were waiting to cross the street when who comes rolling down the street 10 feet away from us on a one wheel scooter thingie? Ed Robertson from Barenaked Ladies. No way, right?! He looked our way and saw us, but scooted on past. And who was the only one of the four of us wearing a BNL t-shirt? This gal!
That song isn’t really about an old apartment. It’s about a past relationship that ended terribly, but the message is tied up in a story about breaking into the home where the relationship died. There are a hundred reasons why living there sucked, and why you’d never want to live there again. “Broken glass. Broke and hungry. Broken hearts and broken bones. This is where we used to live.” It’s the accounting of the injuries. It’s the autopsy. These wounds were fatal. Everything has changed in the old place, and even the lock is new. Why would anyone want to go back? Why go through the trouble and hassle of breaking in? Sometimes rehearing the death knell one more time sounds good. The nostalgia for feeling an old familiar weapon in a weathered hand feels good.
I have a tortured relationship with my past. I usually don’t want my past, but sometimes when I’m feeling overly cocky about my present life, I feel compelled to dabble in sentiment. It’s my attempt to test my health. Am I currently strong enough to stand up to my self-flagellation with painful memories? The problem is that sometimes beating myself with remembrances feels pretty good. Maybe not good…maybe familiar is a better way to say it. There’s comfort in the familiar, and those new self-inflicted bruises remind me of the old bruises, and maybe sometimes I miss my old bruises.
That’s pretty pathetic though. I know it is. None of us escape unbruised. We all have skeletons in our closets. We all have an old apartment. If we close our eyes, we can count those 42 stairs from the street. Muscle memory.
How do we honor where we used to live without making a shrine to an old crime scene? Facebook gives me the opportunity every single day to pull up old memories from one year, two years, three years, every year ago. I don’t need Facebook to spark those memories; I never forget anything painful. But my God, some of them are beautiful memories, though sometimes even the good ones bring pain. I see Grace’s long hair in 8th grade knowing that trichotillomania will leave her bald by senior year. Remembering Lauren and the Middle Schoolers singing to the hot jam on the way to school reminds me that her best friend started a bullying campaign against her that forced Lauren out of her school. Old pics of Emily hunting frogs and turtles at CG Hill park in 1st grade makes me think of Paul scouring that same park in search of Emily last Sept when she ran away from home. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” I am no longer bound by my past, but what do I do with the memories?
The Bible says not to put new wine into old wine skins. Matthew 9:17 “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Clearly God doesn’t want my beautiful memories to be spoiled, exploded, and wasted by a painful crime of the past.
I think it’s a matter of training my mind to be discerning about those memories, good and bad. There is value in nostalgia and sentiment and remembering. None of my experiences are wasted if I view them through God’s perspective. If God doesn’t want me to remember something bad, He will remove that memory. If He hasn’t, then He has left it there for a purpose that glorifies Him and fulfills His promises to me. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
So in the meantime, as I fluctuate between glorifying God and beating myself up, I’ll try to lean more into God. Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Even this verse takes me back to a place I used to live, to an old apartment of sorts, where nothing anymore is the way it used to be, and it hurts to think about it. But I’ll repeat it to myself knowing what I know to be true. God’s Word is true. If you know, you know.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”