“There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed. Some forever not for better, some have gone and some remain.” – “In My Life” by Lennon/McCarthy
The football stadium in Bristol was just as I remembered, built of stone and shaped like a castle. In the cool autumn night, students and people from the surrounding community quickly filled its seats.
Thirty-one years ago I ran out onto this field with my teammates, full of spirit and focused on a single purpose – defeat our opponent by playing hard and by the rules.
Last Friday night I walked onto the field again, pitch pipe in hand, ready to begin the game by singing the National Anthem. I was happy to be back, despite burdensome thoughts of work, family and bills.
My football games were played in simpler days when I thought there was a clear contrast between black and white. Today is more complicated, grayer, hazier, with many more teams competing against each other. Who is the opponent today? Is it Evil? The company? Apathy?
Students start cheering, the band warms up on the sidelines. For a moment, I’m back in high school, the coach’s commands ringing in my ears. I am ready to play.
• • •
In the film Patton, General George Patton is riding in a Jeep on the way to the front. The sergeant behind the wheel ably navigates the rocky road and directs the car towards the passage ahead.
The general yells “Turn right.” His lieutenant assures him that the driver knows the route, as he was at the battlefield yesterday. “No,” the general commands, “turn right.” Despite his officer’s objections, they turn right and come to rest overlooking a great plain, a wide open area with no tanks, soldiers or armaments.
The general pauses and listens to the earth, to the sky, to the memories in his head. “The battlefield was here. The brave Carthaginians were attacked by three Roman legions….Two thousand years ago and I was here.”
Full of purpose and convinced that he has led many earlier lives as a brave soldier, Patton turns away to concentrate on the battle at hand.
• • •
The cold metal kneelers at the Grotto are tough on my knees, but I don’t care. I’m back at Notre Dame for a football weekend. In the quiet of the night, the campus feels like it did when I was a student.
The triangular water fountain, the hundreds of burning candles, the simple lights on Bernadette and the Blessed Virgin – all of these elements unite to remind me of confusing times.
Where should I go when I graduate? Should I return to Tennessee even though my parents are back in Illinois? What career path should I follow? Please, Holy Mary, give me guidance and peace as I decide what to do.
Tonight my children are kneeling beside me, offering their own prayers to Mary, and I see that my prayers have been answered.
• • •
In the film Everything is Illuminated, Alex thinks his grandfather is not right because he acts “like he is dreaming all of the time.”
Alex works for Heritage Tours, the family business that helps Jewish individuals find traces of their lost families in the Ukraine. Alex is a premium dancer and digs American culture, especially the Shaq and Michael Jackson.
Today they are helping Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), an American who wants to find the town where his grandfather lived.
Suddenly they stop beside a massive field of yellow sunflowers. Alex saunters up to the elderly woman washing clothes on the porch. “We are looking for the town of Trachimbrod.”
“I have waited for a long time,” she says. “You are here. I am it.”
They follow her to the clearing by the river, down to the memorial slab surrounded by stones. The Jewish town of Trachimbrod is no more, defiled and destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.
Yet that place still has meaning for Jonathan, who collects items related to his family. He picks up a handful of dirt and neatly places it in a plastic bag. Once he returns to America, he will place this dirt on his grandfather’s grave.
The past is always inside us, providing a deeper sense of who we are. Returning to a special place will often give us a view into that past and into ourselves. By looking deeper and deeper, we will find not only ourselves, but also the real presence of God.
The task, then, is to live one’s life inside out, reflecting the good inside to all those around us. This is the good that is illuminated when we visit the special places in our lives.
Where is your special place?
First published in the October 6, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio