We are planning a remodeling project for our home. The architect/designers that we chose came to the house and made detailed drawings of its present configuration – they call it the “as built” drawing.
Then they imagined some of the ways that our space could be transformed to work better for us. They drew those plans on translucent paper in exactly the same scale as the “as built” drawings – these are the “overlays.” When you put the new plan on top of the current one, you can see exactly what is to be changed and what will remain. Pulling back a corner of the overlay is like a time machine – from the present to the future.
Earlier this summer I spent a night in the Illinois town where I grew up. I left to go to college in 1964 and have not lived there since. But my parents kept living in the same house until my dad died in 2000 and my mom moved to a retirement community in 2002, so I made regular visits through the years. This time I was particularly aware of the ways that visiting someplace you grew up is like having several overlays over the “as built” drawing of your childhood.
My clearest memories of the town are probably from 5th or 6th grade, when I was 10 or 11. I can still see in mind’s eye where the schools were, the grocery store, the small department store where we went to buy gym suits (those dreadful blue bloomer things). I can remember riding my bike to the swimming pool, playing board games in the basement on hot summer days, going to birthday parties. My dad rode the train to work downtown, my mom was a Girl Scout leader, and our back yard seemed enormous.
When I drove through town last week, I could still see some of those places, though many were substantially changed. The elementary school is now the school district offices, the library is the park department headquarters, the local department store long gone and replaced by Starbuck’s and Ann Taylor. The still-busy train station has been significantly upgraded, and the backyard of the house on Olive Street is really not very big at all.
And as I drove around, I found myself tugging back the overlays, trying to see the “as built” diagram underneath. But it was not so much the changes in the town that were overlaid on that old “as built” diagram; it was the changes in me. While the town was doing what towns do – tearing down and building to meet emerging needs, I was doing what people do — growing and moving through life’s changes. The overlays were no longer separate from the “as built” – they were layered together into something neither old nor new, neither familiar nor strange. Instead of time moving forward and backward, it had became a parfait of sights and memories in which every soulful spoonful has a different flavor
I suppose when our house remodeling is done, we will mostly forget the way it used to be. But the streets of my home town will always be a shadowy combination of the overlays and the “as built.”
Prayer: Gracious God, help us to see the world and those around us with eyes that can see what has come before and what might come in the future. Amen.