Your Trail of Yarn
Wherever we go we leave something behind. When I was a child, I suppose I still notice OCD tendencies from time to time, I used to imagine there was an endless string of yarn connected to me. Wherever I went it would unravel. I liked to make sure I entered and exited through the same door, if I walked around a column I had to walk back around it the way I came. I was afraid of leaving and imaginary tangled mess behind and never being “free” of it until I retraced my steps. I had a vivid imagination as a child—maybe too vivid. To this day garden hoses irritate me when they’re snagged on something or knotted up. I digress, but I think this picture can help illustrate what I’m getting at: Wherever we go we leave something behind.
General William Tecumseh Sherman. Revered by some and hated by others nearly 150 years after his infamous “March to the Sea” during the Civil War. General Sherman left a 300 mile wake of desolation in the state of Georgia stretching from Atlanta to Savannah. As Sherman moved across the state of Georgia, he devastated the land starting with the city of Atlanta, which he burned to the ground. Anything in his path he either confiscated or committed to the flames. Without a doubt, Sherman’s ~30 day march was significant in demoralizing and eventually breaking the Confederacy. He, like my tangled imaginary string, has left a legacy which remains to this day. Though the land has healed, scars of hate remain to this day. The very mentioning of Sherman’s name to some southerners brings up emotions. It reveals that Sherman’s yarn is still tangled along his path. Wherever we go we leave something behind.
Johnny Appleseed. He lived during the turn of the 18 and 19th centuries, moving around what is now the northern midwest. Johnny was both a missionary and a orchardist. In short, Johnny introduced apple trees to American lands west of the original colonies. People remember him today as someone who left apple trees wherever he went. Johnny left a different kind of yarn-trail than Sherman. Sherman left fire, Johnny left fruit. Wherever we go we leave something behind.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
-David, Psalm 23:6, emphasis mine
I suppose you could debate what David really meant when he wrote this, but Psalm 23 is a psalm about facing death and fear. In verse 5, David talks about sitting down and eating with his enemies present. The psalm reiterates his trust in God’s care over and over. Sherman was in similar straights. David was on the run from King Saul, his life at stake. Sherman was fighting a war, potentially facing his own death. Even in these uncertain times, when he should be focused on survival, David thinks about his legacy. He thinks about the effects of his actions. David thinks about the yarn-trail he’s leaving behind.
Twice David had the opportunity to kill Saul in his sleep. Twice David resisted the urge. David knew bigger things were at stake. He knew killing Saul would end his troubles, as he was on pretty good terms with just about everyone else in Israel, but it would leave a tangled mess in other ways. Murdering Saul might solve his problems then, but the way he went about it might spark some new ones as well.
150 years later “General Sherman” is a byword in the South. He, like so many other notable figures throughout history, has left a tangled mess. Talk about Adolf Hitler to Jews or even Germans for that matter, Che Guevara to Cubans, Osama Bin Laden to New Yorkers. See what they say. Watch their eyes and expressions. All these guys are dead, so why does it still matter to people? There’s still some tangled yarn there. The acts are finished, the perpetrators are long gone, but their legacies continue to be touchy subjects. Wherever we go we leave something behind.
Think it’s only limited to dictators and mass murderers? Many of us have yarn-trails, left by others, suffocating us like nooses. For many people, their family members will have left a yarn-trail through their life. Maybe it’s a parent or a sibling who said or did things to you. Perhaps a close friend betrayed you, a school-mate embarrassed you or stole something from you. To this day, the mention of their name causes your blood pressure to rise, your heart to beat faster, memories to flood in. Wherever we go we leave something behind.
We can’t change the yarn paths of others. The threads around our necks were strung by others. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to cut the yarn, to forgive them. Unless they come back and untangle their mess (ask for forgiveness), which usually we’ve contributed to as well, we’ll stay in that place of entanglement. Forgiveness isn’t easy. I struggle with it often. Justice is so much easier for me to pursue. It feels right. But when I hear stories from people in Rwanda meeting the men who murdered their parents and forgiving them, I’m put to shame. Many have heard the famous story of Corrie Ten Boom, who was in a concentration camp in WWII, offering forgiveness to a Nazi guard who was at her camp after meeting him years later. If a woman in a concentration camp can forgive her captors, what am I justified in holding on to?
People spin their thread through our lives, but what of the doorways and arches we’ve passed through? Don’t we need to back up and untangle ourselves? We too have caught others up in our own March to the Sea. We’ve done things to people we are ashamed to tell anyone about, and many of us will do the same things again. What’s worse, we often complicate the mess by justifying our actions. Are our “victories” where we march through someone’s life, often leaving a trail of destruction worth it?
David understood. He trusted in God for his protection. He trusted in God for victory. He trusted in God for his direction. He trusted in God for everything. “He leads me beside quiet waters. I shall not be in want. I will fear no evil. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. My cup overflows.” But David also understood that he left a legacy, perhaps that’s why he was promised to have a family line that lasted forever.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
What follows me? When I move on from a place, when I pass through seasons of life, when I come into contact with others, what am I leaving behind? Am I leaving a tangled mess of yarn for others to stumble into? Am I still caught in the weavings of others? Am I leaving fire? Am I leaving apple trees?
I want to leave goodness and mercy in my wake. I want the people I walk amongst to receive a blessing, I want my “carbon footprint” on their lives to be something which improves them, which encourages them on to new heights. The places where I have tangled myself up in others lives, I want to go back and undo. The people who have tangled me in their messes, I want to cut them free.
I apologize for my thoughts being scattered and incomplete. I’ve been turning this over in my mind today. The thoughts are still stewing.