Friday, September 27, 2013

Precious Transformed Memories

Precious memories, how they linger
How they how they ever flood my soul
In the stillness of the midnight
Precious memories flood my soul. (Ray Price)

I went to a book signing for Shirley Showalter’s recently released memoir called Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World (Herald Press, 2013). It inspired me to think about a segment of my life that could/should be put down on paper as a memoir.

It didn’t take me long to know exactly what period I would write about—those 31 months I spent in Honduras as a conscientious objector during a very turbulent time in the history of the United States. John Kennedy had been assassinated. The Psychedelic Flower Children, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war sentiment all plunged the country into deep self-examination. The assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the killing of anti-war demonstrators at Kent State all happened while I was in Honduras; all this with the threat of nuclear annihilation over our heads. The times they were “A-changin.’” The prosperous, idyllic post World War II era was turned on its head.

My own outer and interior worlds were a-changin’ as well. My naïve, bucolic world peopled with pastors and prayers was upended when I crossed the oceanic cultural divide between Miami and language school in San José.

Memories from those years flood my soul constantly and not all of them are precious. Scenes of grinding poverty, of racism and oppression, drunkenness and sexual aberrations (in my view), have beleaguered me. I clung to my faith as tenaciously as a leech clings to the hull of a ship. My soul was not prepared for what I encountered and I have spent years trying to get my soul to catch up with the rest of me.

There were many precious memories as well. Learning the magnificence of the language and culture of some of the most beautiful people in the world has shaped me forever; relationships over schedule, hospitality over selfishness, gratitude over entitlement. The hugs of friendship and fellowship flood my soul with many precious memories.

The inner work I have done over the past number of years has helped me to let my soul catch with the rest of me. Many of my other blog posts show parts of this movement. I haven’t been able to change the world as I had hoped at one time to do, but I have transformed my stories of traumatization into stories of hope. Those black, hungry eyes that burned a hole in my conscience in the stillness of midnight have turned into eyes of love and forgiveness. I now sleep with dreams of God’s Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. May the transformed memories linger. May they be precious.


  1. Memories ARE precious, Don. And you have given a wonderful rationale for any writer's journey into his or her own past. Many young Mennonites have gone on similar journeys. J. Lawrence Burkholder, for example, spent his whole life unpacking his experiences in China following WWII and the inadequacy of his previous theology to match his experience there.

  2. Thank you for your response, Shirley. And thanks for the inspiration (your memoir) that made me spend a delightful half hour on my patio this morning thinking about this. I knew about J. Lawrence's service in China, in fact he took my roommate and me on an airplane ride around Goshen. But I didn't know about his struggle with "letting his soul catch up with the rest of him." Wish I could have coffee with him. Many of those who journeyed with me had totally different experiences and I've often wondered why--another thing I've been exploring.

    Thanks again, and I hope your book sells well!