Connections and Cul-de-Sacs

Try to isolate a thought.  It’s warm.  It will be summer soon.  I’m going to Italy.  Then what?  I’ll keep writing on Tuesdays, in Italy, too?  Maybe I’ll write a book.  About what?  That’s the chaotic freedom I’m starting with tonight, ideas bouncing around in my cranium, trying to land on some synapse of revelation that will settle my single nerves and quiet subconscious debates.

My new couple’s counselor says that women’s brains are like spaghetti and men’s are like waffles.  Men compartmentalize life into separate depositories; asked a question, and they pull up the right square.  Ask a woman a question, and she’ll start with the first thought at one end of the strand and trace it back until it leads to the answer somewhere in the entree.  He’d asked us to forgive the gender stereotyping, but the glass slipper fits me and Charming.  My mom and dad and my brother P.J. and his wife can also wear the metaphorical shoe.

I like Dr. Huff.  He explains communication concepts in analogies, and I process them the same way.  While I think Charming might prefer a clearer, more direct path in our sessions, there is something inherently logical in what amounts to purposeful meandering – not digressions, simply cul-de-sacs that bring us back on track eventually.   Dr. Huff had introduced the brain analogy in our first session, and it’s since been unraveling a strand in my Italian mind.

Here’s an immediate illustration.  My neighbor just dropped by to say hello.  I was irritated by the interruption to my writing.  I thought of all the times he’d seemed unaware of appropriate social cues (running to the door, arms full of groceries, in the middle of mowing the yard) and worried about how to curb this conversation without hurting his feelings, which has also happened before.   Then he told me he’d trimmed a hedge for me.  My mood self-corrected, shifting appropriately to gratitude and entertaining a few more minutes of conversation though my fingers were begging me to return to this particular dish of pasta.  Now, he’s gone.  Phew.

And because my brains are like spaghetti, I connect this interruption to my writer’s train of thought, witnessing the evolution of my own emotions as they corresponded to different parts of that short encounter:  irritation, worry, gratitude, tapered impatience as my neighbor stood beside my impatiens, and now relief.  In the span of three minutes, my mind had wandered back to every uncomfortable exchange we’ve had in the past two and a half years, including him questioning Charming at a recent visit.  My immediate response to my neighbor is the product of tracing a strand back through time.

My perception of reality, then, is shaped by an assortment of varied memories and knowledge, stored in regions of my mind that mimic an inner-city grid with lots of inconvenient one-way streets where red lights often dictate when I opt to turn right in the hopes to reach my destination faster.  That is the present.  That is the organized chaos of the purposeful meanderings as I process, still hoping to unearth that synapse of meaning.

The past seems more like a grand road trip marked by varied road and terrain.  It has a traceable, finite path.  In retrospect, it makes sense.  When I agreed to create a slide show to honor PJ’s completion of his doctoral program at his graduation party last weekend, I was excited to spend a week back in time as I created, cataloging PJ’s journey that preceded this accomplishment.  From nearly two hundred photos Mom had scanned, I began planning.  The pictures were organized chronologically into folders of different eras.  An hour in, and I knew this was going to be a much bigger project than just pairing music and pictures.

There was a story here.  Between the pictures, I could practically hear verses of scripture.  And so PJ’s story began with the text, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).  It was followed by my narration of PJ’s journey, his path, scriptures interjected to reflect God’s providential hand in shaping the story told by pictures of PJ at every juncture and every cul-de-sac, his triumphs and injuries, his milestones and waiting rooms.

By the time I reached the final segment, the present, I’d exhausted my inventory of photos.  I poured over PJ’s Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and I settled on the title of his dissertation: From a band of Immigrants to a Global Movement: A Century of Italian American Pentecostalism.  The right synapse fired, and I thought of who the immigrants were, like my great-grandparents and their parents, and I thought about the role they all played in the movement, particularly their leadership and their children’s leadership in the Italian Pentecostal movement, established as the Christian Church of North America (CCNA).

The conclusion for the video tribute unraveled.  My voice wavered noticeably as I recorded in my living room that final section.  Over screenshots of his publications and celebratory posts followed by a map of the world covered by photos of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers, I said, “All the while, Paul was unraveling the thread of his work, his ministerial calling.  God’s path for PJ’s life became a passionate undertaking: tracing the paths of his ancestors, entering his grandfathers and great-grandfathers into the annals of the written history of the movement through which they spread the gospel.”

I had almost made sense of the spaghetti, but I had to come back to the original thought: that first verse I opened with.  I counted the purposeful meandering of my brother’s life as blessings.  I saw direction and incredible progress.  I saw success and well-deserved pride as PJ watched that video, seemingly surprised to hear the words I’d recorded in the silence of my home.  I saw him smile as he listened to my final words, accompanied by photographs of our family together.

“Children are a heritage, and Paul would be the son who would grow to uncover a legacy of faith and faithfulness, the path that brought forth a family with generations of children who were trained up to walk closely with the Lord and did not depart from it.  The cycle continues with a path that always leads to the Cross.”

And as I watched PJ watch this tribute, with his parents, children, and friends around him, I heard my words echoing through Papa Ciccio’s banquet hall, sounding over the twins playing corn hole.  There was a family tree in that room, and I could see it superimposed over the scene.  All these shoots, all connected, and then there was me.  And the tree ended.

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Oh.  I sigh.  I breathe.  I unearthed that synapse of revelation attempting to settle my single nerves and quiet subconscious debates.  There are no shoots of growth connected to me.  I fit in context to my parents and brothers directly, my nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law indirectly.  No one has entered my family tree because of me.  Well, that’s not exactly true, but some digressions aren’t productive.

I catalogued the journeys of my parents’ children and the beginnings of PJ’s children.  I’d chronicled God’s path, the legacy in a lineage who believes that if you train up a child in the way the he should go, he will not depart from it.  I am grateful for the legacy preceding me, but I don’t want to just be a part of that family.

I want to be a part of the cycle.  I want the interruption of children at play.  I don’t want my line in the Palma family tree to end with me.  Is it greed?  Is it envy?  No, that’s too easy.  This desire to be fruitful and multiply is God given.  It is not inspired by worldly merit or earthly gain.

I don’t want my legacy of faith and faithfulness to end with me.  I wonder what question Dr. Huff would ask after that cul-de-sac.  See the spaghetti?  Italian food for thought, boiled until firm realization, seasoned with reflective spice, and garnished in gender generalization.  But it makes sense to me.

Poor Charming!  His brain makes better sense of brunch than Italian, according to Dr. Huff.  There’s probably another analogy to unpack, but every therapy session needs to end before more progress can be made on that path so these present one-way streets can seem purposeful in hindsight.

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