By Dikkon Eberhart
The title of this post is a line from Flux, a poem of my father’s.
Flux has stuck by me during my adult years, not because of any verbal magnificence it possesses—deliberately it possesses none—but because of its insinuation and acknowledgement of enigma.
The next two following lines are--
There is a somber, imponderable fate.
Enigma rules and the heart has no certainty.
Dad continues in this poem, using brief snippets of a few lines, to cite one imponderable event after another. As an example--
The boy, in his first hour on his motorbike,
Met death in a head on collision,
His dog stood silent beside the young corpse.
So, Dad offers no release for the reader. His poem informs us that the imponderable dominates in life, and, therefore, that life is stranger than any of us expected.
My life has been stranger than I expected. Not imponderable. But improbable.
I ponder this matter because I have written a memoir. The memoir is jauntily titled, using imponderables--The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told.
As is the nature of memoir, my book is an attempt to understand myself and my life's experience. It is an attempt to make order from what Dad terms the imponderable—indeed to provide certainty for the heart, which Dad’s poem denies is available.
I wrote my memoir to acknowledge that the circumstances of my life are stranger than I expected, and yet I seek to order the strangeness.
There is a point, I believe, in the strangeness. Not only is there a point, I believe, but I go farther than that. I believe the strangeness is deliberate. I believe my life has been infused with strangeness for a purpose. I was sixty years old when I learned what that purpose is. Then I wrote my memoir.
I'm seventy now. If anything, I have become more certain of the existence of the purpose although the purpose is stranger than ever I expected.
My publisher has the professional responsibility to determine the demographics and the psychographics of the primary reader of a memoir such as mine. All very well. However, beyond mere statistics, I believe the person who reads my memoir may read it with that same sense of the imponderable about life as my dad expressed in his poem.
Like me, that reader may find that life is stranger than any of us expected. But what I hope that person may ask next is the more important question. “Yes, but what is the purpose of that strangeness?”
Now, I am a Christian. The Lord's purpose that we should ponder the strangeness of our lives is that we might engage with Him in His working out of our lives, for His glory.
At my age of sixteen, I pondered questions such as that.
Back then, on any afternoon on the coast of Maine when nothing else pressed Dad and me—and when the sun was strong and the wind was light and the tide was low—he and I might offer to take Grandmother and her house guests, the German Readers, out onto Penobscot Bay.
Grandmother and her German Readers enjoyed it when we took them aboard Dad’s cabin cruiser to the outer ledges of the bay so they could view the seals. Grandmother’s half dozen or so German Readers came to Maine during two weeks every summer for relief from Boston’s heat and to keep up in their former language. Generally, they used 19th century family sagas and romances, which they read to one another as they sat and knitted in the evenings. Aboard the boat, however, they would exclaim and be cheerful at the playfulness of the seals, while I passed around little cups of sherry and a tray of Ritz crackers which had experienced more humidity than was good for them.
At my age of sixteen, I was impressed by the German Readers.
For example, it was not easy to bring them aboard. Dad and I would power the cruiser over to Grandmother’s—her house was nestled just back from a wide rock with her beach down below. She had no dock. Dad would lie-to in the boat about fifty yards off as I ran the launch back and forth to the beach and brought these ancient ladies off shore two or three at a time.
They would need to wade into the surf before clambering into the launch, and then, when I pulled up alongside the cruiser and each boat rocked on the sea, they would need to climb aboard over the gunwale. The boarding ladder had three steps. A lot of leg swinging was needed, up and over the side, and balancing on the after deck, before each lady was safe to totter to a bench and to sit down. Usually, all this was accomplished while wearing a loose skirt.
I had known these ladies my entire life. They were all in their seventies by then—widows, gemutlich. Most of them represented families that had been in American for several generations at least. But two, as I recall it, had immigrated to our country with husband and children in the 1930s.
Deeply cultured Germany—imponderably—in the 1930s was becoming a place where it was not a good place to be.
At my age of sixteen, I ran barefoot over any boat in any sea. For me, there was no place near, in, on, or under the sea that was not a good place to be.
But I remember an imponderable regarding these ladies which emerged for me at my age of sixteen. As I became stronger and more flexible, these companions of my Grandmother became weaker and stiffer…and yet they waded, and they climbed, and they tottered bravely upon the deck just the same.
I didn’t know anything about this business of being in one’s seventies. I couldn’t conceive of it. Now and then, though, I felt their eyes bearing upon me thoughtfully, I, who was my Grandmother’s first grandchild. I, who was so much the spit and image of my father. I, who ran barefoot over any boat in any sea.
The ladies seemed to me to be weighty with how strange their lives had been, stranger than any of them expected. I could not articulate this weightiness which showed in their eyes. I sensed it but could not fathom it.
What point had they found? Was it similar to what I have found now?
The German readers did not caution me about my life to come—how could they? My life was imponderable, its strangeness yet to be revealed.
But I do not think that any one of them—were she alive today to discover that I have written my life down in order to make literary and theological order out of my own personal flux—I do not think that any one of them would find that fact improbable.