You Can’t Miss What You Never Had?
Ashley Crowder Stanley, Pastor
June 17, 2020
A few months after we were married, my husband and I packed up a rented UHAUL truck and our little Subaru sedan and began the long drive to our new home of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Moving from Durham, NC where we had been students for 8 years, it was now time to begin a new chapter in our lives. I didn’t want to go.
As I followed behind the truck, I listened to one cassette tape over and over: James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, primarily the song “In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina.” I wore that song out while I boo-hoed all the way up to the foreign territory of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I didn’t care about all those lakes because I had Carolina (that is, NORTH Carolina and not the university) on my mind and in my heart and James was obviously the only one who understood. Later, my husband quipped that I had clawed the NC soil so hard as we left it that the dirt under my nails might never wash out.
There’s an expression that goes like this: “you can’t miss what you never had.” So, as we drove far away from home, I wasn’t missing money, a great job or even the house I’d grown up in my whole life because I had never really had those things. With every mile, though, I was missing proximity to my siblings and parents, my beloved friends and the familiarity of the places I knew.
This week, I am in a missing place again. Along with thousands of other United Methodists from Western North Carolina, I should be at Lake Junaluska for our yearly conference meeting but due to Covid-19, the meeting has been cancelled. Honestly, in most years, I usually grumble to myself about having to go, but once I get there and see the first few lifelong friends, I begin to realize that there is simply nothing like the connection I feel to the people and place of this annual gathering.
Growing up in a preacher’s family, my children would always be curious about how carefully I packed my clothes and materials for Annual Conference. They knew this event was important to me but they never really understood why or even what happened there(it really is hard to explain). One year, I was the preacher for one of the Annual Conference worship services and my three children came to support me. Wide-eyed at the sheer number of people milling about in the auditorium, the exuberance of the fellowship and the warmth of the auditorium’s temperature, my then college aged daughter concluded that Annual Conference was like a “fraternity-sorority mixer without the kegs.” Yes, maybe. With hopefully more depth.
You can’t miss something you never had. So, this week, I am missing Annual Conference and my friends and the worship and the singing and the humidity and the ordination service and taking Holy Communion and sitting beside my best minister buddies and walking around the lake and talking under the trees and going to the Reconciling Ministries service and celebrating retirements and hearing stories of how God has been at work and seeing yet another generation of preachers’ kids roaming around with their soggy bathing suits on, hungry for lunch. I miss it all because I have had it and loved it.
In these days of great change, loss and sorrow, many of us are missing so much, we are yearning for some semblance of normalcy and reunion. We miss being at table with friends, sitting closely on a church pew, embracing when we see a friend, having a routine that makes sense, being able to focus. We miss the fullness of life and yearn for a time gone by when we were not afraid of a powerful pandemic virus.
Or maybe it’s just me that feels this way? I don’t know, but somehow, I think you might also be missing something or someone right now. And maybe, like me, you need to find nourishment in the memories until a time we can make new ones.
The cassette is long gone(melted), but the song’s poignant memory carries on. I am thankful for that song because it helps me remember the blessings of who and what I was leaving behind back in 1981. Six years later, we would travel the same highway going the other way, heading home, with Carolina on our minds. As we drove, I smiled through my tears to see the dark, rich Minnesota soil crusty beneath my nails. I didn’t want to go.
Our memories can sustain, teach and help us appreciate what we have had as we anticipate what is to come. Life is different and hard right now. But, life is not completely on hold. Our spirits are not quarantined; they can soar and find comfort in all the goodness that we have had.
So, how would you finish the line: in my mind, I’m going to…? Wherever it is, I hope it is a good place, filled with sweet memories and life-giving hope.