Monday, March 9, 2009

Valentines Day

My wife and I started dating in January of 1995 – halfway through our junior year in college. Of course, the timing presented an interesting conundrum: what to do about Valentine’s Day. Since we were dating, I knew that I should do something. However, I did not want to go overboard; filling her room with roses and showing up with a tuxedo to take her to the Williamsburg Inn for dinner might scare her away. After all, it had only been two weeks since our first date. And so, I opted for something more low key: a small flower arrangement and a mix tape.

If you have never listened to music on anything but a CD player or an iPod, some background may be helpful. There used to be these things called Cassette Tapes. One could purchase them at the same stores you currently purchase CD’s. They replaced vinyl record albums and eight-track cassettes, but that is another post… Making a mix tape was not quite as easy as dragging and dropping a few .mp3 files from one column to another with iTunes and then clicking ‘Burn CD.’ You had to queue up the tape, start the song you want to record, and start the recording. At the end of the first song, you had to pause the tape, queue up the next song, re-start the recording, and so on and so on. As a result, if you were recording a one hour tape, it took a little over an hour to do so.

Anyway, I dug into my music collection (and that of my roommate) and came up with a collection of songs that I liked that also expressed the emotions I felt at the beginning of this relationship. They weren’t all sappy love ballads, nor were they all even explicitly about love. But they did a pretty good job of expressing how I felt.

Valentine’s Day came along, and I presented Katie with my gift. She appreciated the thought I had put into it, and quite often when I came to visit, she and her suitemates would be listening to it. (Relationship Tip #482: ALWAYS get on the good side of the roommates). Several of the songs quickly became favorites, especially ones with which they were not familiar.

At the end of the semester, I headed back to New Jersey to begin a summer internship with a public accounting firm. Katie returned to Appomattox, Virginia to spend her summer working at a day care center. We spoke nearly every other day on the telephone, and wrote letters (before the days of cell phones and e-mail) almost as often. We planned on meeting in Washington DC after about a month apart, since it was mid-way between us and a number of our friends lived there. A couple days before I was to make the trip south, I received a package in the mail. It was a cassette. Katie had recorded a mix tape for my trip! The four hour drive flew by listening to the tunes and thinking about being together after so long.

Over the next three years of our courtship, there were many other drives, and several more mix tapes. I had listened to mine so often, that when I heard one of the songs on the radio, I expected the next song to be the next one on the tape!

Fast forward ten years, four children, four jobs, and two houses into the future. Things are a bit more complicated then they were back in our days at William and Mary. Through the highs and lows, our relationship has grown all the stronger. Without a doubt, she is my best friend.

In the past few months, she has mentioned that she wanted to burn the songs on those mix tapes onto CDs since neither of our cars have cassette players. So, for Valentines Day this year I decided to surprise her and burn the songs on that first mix tape onto a CD. Finding all of the songs was no small feat. I had lost some of the CDs, and there were other tunes that I had originally recorded from borrowed albums. Luckily, Napster and similar sites allowed me to round out my collection for $0.99 a song! In a little less that thirty minutes I was done, and I did not need to keep hitting ‘pause’!

I have been listening to the CD on the way to and from work, and an unintended consequence has come to light. Listening to those songs, in that order, has brought me right back to those early days in our relationship. It does not do so in the same way that a documentary or history book might. I do not remember that on such and such a date Katie and I went did this, but it does allow me to make present in my mind the feelings and emotions that I experienced when that particular event took place.

Good liturgy does the same thing. It invites us to enter what the Greeks used to refer to as kairos – a concept of time that is not focused upon measurement as much as experience. Since for God there really is not beginning or end, it is how God ‘knows’ time. I can only imagine that for the early Christians, the service that we know as the Eucharist would have had much the same effect. The words, smells, and tastes would have brought the early believers back to an experience of Jesus when he physically walked the Earth. The mystery of the sacraments is that, if we let them, they allow us to make that experience truly present for us as well!

Sure beats a box of chocolates!

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