Old Pictures

You and I often encounter the redeeming presence of God at the juncture of those moments in our lives where our pictures of the past meet the opportunities of the present and future. One spring day in l990, I walked over to Suburban Street and encountered two elderly sisters standing in the archway of building #3 of Canterbury Green in Stamford. They were looking at the courtyard, my church, and Suburban Street. “How are you?” I asked. “It’s terrible, just terrible,” one of them muttered. “What’s terrible?” I asked. “Why, what’s happened around here; it is just terrible.” “How’s that?” I replied. “Why this all used to be so nice. Everything was so good. There were nice houses and we didn’t have all these buildings.” “Well,” I replied, “The city got seedy and it was necessary to rebuild.” “Oh no,” the elder said. “It used to be so nice and so good around here, not like this at all.” Exasperated, I said,” When was it good?” Without missing a beat the younger replied, “l928.” “What?” I said. “l928,” she insisted. “Yeah, but l929 was a bit of a bummer,” I replied. “No, it was nice then,” the eldest said. “Well, I suppose they built these buildings to broaden the tax base,” I ventured. “Do you own any property?” “Yes,” they nodded, “We own five houses.” “Good grief,” I thought to myself, “At $200,000 per house they have got to be sitting on a million dollars of real estate. They did pretty well during these terrible, terrible times.” That afternoon I went up to see a parishioner in St. Joseph’s hospital. His neighbor was there too. I told the story about the two sisters who knew exactly when the good times were. My parishioner and his neighbor chuckled. Suddenly, the guy in the next bed who hadn’t even moved, sat bolt up right and said, “They’re right! 1928 to l933.” He then lay back and never said another word.

This story illustrates our inclination to carry on our heart an old picture of past experiences. That image shapes what we see, and it feeds both our memory and expectations. Sometimes we get stuck with that picture and cannot move beyond it. That is what happened to the two sisters. When we get stuck on an old image, at best we are nostalgic, at worst we are bitter. Oft times with God’s help we are able to move on and to resolve our images of the past with the experiences of the present in such a way that our life becomes creative and vital.

In Matthew’s story of the flight of Joseph to Egypt, the past images of power (Herod’s) and Israel’s prophetic expectations focus upon the Holy Family. God moves them, and us to new beginnings. Amen.