Thursday, July 26, 2012

Of Screen Doors and Southern Porches

There is a particle within that magnetically draws me closer to a screen door.
Perhaps it is the proximity to a porch with rocking chairs or a swing hanging low or a kitchen where tomatoes sit upside down on the counter.

Maybe it is the whirr of an oscillating fan co-mingled with the night noises of crickets near the banks of the Pearl River where Susie and I would sleep overnight on Mattie Lou's sleeping porch in junior high school.

Whatever it is, a screen door beckons. Offering more than flow-through ventilation, the creak of a screen door with its thin, worn frame provides entrance to a storehouse of memories in the South.

I do not have a screen door anywhere on my house today. We have heavy doors, weather stripping, a few clad windows that do not need painting, all with a goal of insulation from the elements. Modernity has replaced the screen door with new-and-improved, but something's missing. Something from the past has been shut out.

Today's busy lives without time or desire to sit a spell and enjoy conversation amid the steady rocking of a wooden chair or rhythmic ebb and flow of a swing or aluminum glider are sadly draining our collective cultural memory and depleting our personal batteries, and we may not even recognize it. I sound like an old-timer's misty reflection on the good old days.

I have been reflecting on childhood a bit after my Monticello next door neighbor since 1960 died this week. Nell and homemade divinity were synonymous. She was much more than the sum of her Christmas candy--that picture being but a snapshot etched from the memory banks of the past-- and her passing brought to light dear old sights and sounds. Both next door neighbors have died this summer, actually, stirring the family pot of cross-country reminiscing emails and sharing stories across the miles of the good people who have shared our lives on that plot of ground.  

Reminiscing offers the pause that refreshes.

Telling the stories to another generation or two who come alongside and widen the circle is a part of these present good old days, much like we did with grandparents on their front porch in a glider and rocking chair. How else would we have known about the Preacher and the Bear or Ezekiel and the dry bones? Or about John Henry, that steel drivin’ man, Lawd Lawd? Or how would we know the thrill of hearing Casey at the throttle of the Cannonball Express with harmonic whistle sung by Ned Pace even better than Burl Ives? These are some long songs and stories, I’m telling you. They take time. And what we had as children back then was time. I don’t ever remember being over-scheduled. 

But that was then, and this is now. 

I know much of that porch sitting in the past was necessary because of the scarcity of air conditioning. Far from romanticized magnolia evenings in the South, outside was frankly cooler than inside. The house was a hot box without a screen door.

Today’s screen door may even be reduced to an accessory now with its form of more value than function. Few sit on a front porch anymore anyway, with newer homes favoring outdoor living spaces in what we used to call the back yard.

Still... I’ll take the door and the porch with a side of lemonade and feed the old memories.

Our present zeal to process and to consume--because we can--keeps driving us ever more headlong into a place that is much different from childhood for many of us. That’s not all bad.  But the need to reclaim some essence of available space in our lives for what I can only call porch-sitting remains. Electronic communication is eclipsing interpersonal communication at a speed that would melt iced tea.

Today's lifestyle insulates us from ourselves as well as others.

We don't sit well.

Sitting looks like we're doing nothing which is anathema in 2012 where multitasking rules. Our schedules even crowd out space for thoughtful communion or meditation. We prevent the very flow-through ventilation our hearts and souls need to breathe fresh air, spiritually speaking, in our lives so conditioned to forced air and forceful living.

I do not own a screen door, but all is not lost. We can still make time today to have a virtual visit to a quiet place, porch or not. We can go there anytime because God, who is not bound by time or space or weather stripping, meets us at any place where we may be still and know. God restores my soul and sets my feet upon a wide path whether we are looking toward the future or giving thanks for blessings of the past.

Most Holy One, who fills my life with grace,
Each day and night I remember your love
In my lying down and in my rising up
In life and in death
You are my health and my peace.
Each day and each night
I remember your forgiveness
Bestowed on me so gently and generously
Each day and each night
May I be fuller in love to you.

(Adapted from Celtic Prayers from Iona)