The rain beats slowly against the window, the water beading as it slips slowly down the glass. It's muggy tonight, the rain barely a relief from the heat soaked into the ground that rises like a late summer swamp. The cafe is quiet. The couches and tables around me are empty. Two men walk through the doors, and I watch as they laugh there way to the counter. One is clean-shaven and wearing pleated pants and a collared shirt. The other is wearing jeans and a ripped T-shirt. Tattoos line his arms. His roughly bearded face stands in stark relief with his friend's nicely postured appearance.
It's an odd pairing, if only because of the assumptions I've unconsciously embraced. One man is a professional. The other is not. That, in itself, is probably not idle speculation. What's important however, is how I've so quickly decided which one is a professional and why. As a novelist, it is easy to assume certain 'tells' about people. We paint pictures based on the assumptions people make when they see or talk to someone. Innocent enough, except this quick form of judgment so natural to humanity does not tell the whole story. Just as we would hope that someone would never judge us by the state of our clothing or hair, we hope for the same in those around us. It is a fleeting, utopian wish. Humanity has not changed in thousands of years of recorded history, so why would it change now.
The men have passed out of sight, and I glance at my oddly thick laptop, with its gray exterior marked by tape on the side. I bought the computer for nine dollars. When the CD player would no longer stay closed on its own, I taped it up. It is old, an antique really, but it is sturdy and serves my purposes. When I think about first impressions however, I can only imagine what others must think.
"He's obviously poor. Look at his computer?"
They might say the same about my clothing. I'm not sure because it isn't something I worry about. What concerns me tonight is something deeper.
I watch the rain fall, and with a smile, I grab my coffee and head out into the fading twilight. The cool mist falls on my face, and I smile at its fading gentleness, a gentle kiss as it brushes onto my face and arms. I've always liked the rain. When I was a kid, I would run outside when it started to rain, despite my parents' protests. Some of my friends thought I was weird, but I didn't care. There was always something special about the rain, something about the promises of a new spring, of a new life, that washed over me when I stood beneath the heavens.
I smile at the memory. Despite my thirty-five years, not much has changed. I still love the rain. And every time it rains, I have the same sense that I had as a child.
Everything is not as it seems.
I don't mean that in a simple way, that the man with tattoos could be a millionaire. What I mean is that the method we use to judge and discern is unalterably human. That the way we look at culture and life is not a simple thing, that we are inevitably influenced by the world around us. That we will, without God's help, see everything in a temporal light.
Sometimes the only way to open our eyes is to close them.
I slide over to the evergreen trees and lean my face into the rain. It still falls gently, and it tickles my eyelids as I let it drip slowly down my face. A young couple walks past me, and I can only imagine what they're thinking, but I ignore them as I stare back into the gray skies.
The past few days I have been enraptured by a single thought: the world is not as it seems. That truth is self-evident as I speak with friends and family, as I watch the world absorb itself into an ever-tightening spin of dissolution and distinction, searching and crying for someone or something to break the nooses that seem to settle so easily about our necks. It is neither random nor hidden, but a manifestation of one world atop another. Some nights I imagine the buildings and cars and contrivances of my race to be vanished, to see the faces of people as they look towards one another in confusion, to hear their thoughts dance along the edges of madness at the revelation of what lies beneath them.
Within the heart of every person lies the indistinguishable heartbeat of something else, of this strange sense that the world is not all that it seems, that neither rationalism nor fanaticism can solve this great mystery behind humanity.
Fundamentalism assures us that Jesus awaits, just as atheism assures us that we are simply lost in our imaginations. Is either correct? Do we have all the answers? I have followed Jesus for many years, and while I consider my hero to be the Son of God, he does not answer every question. Nor should he, because faith can not exist without some doubt.
"Why the mystery?" I ask. "Why is there so much I do not know?"
The rain slackens. I slide away from the trees before finally heading back inside. Back at my laptop, Cynthia smiles at me as she wipes down a table. I do not get an answer, but even as I write, I think I am beginning to understand.
The beginning, I think, is to ask. When we have all the answers we no longer ask, we no longer seek. And so long as we have the answers, the world is as it appears, both temporal and dysfunctional. And that will never do.
I still long for the day I understand everything, the day when I can sit down in full knowledge and comprehension. But until that day comes, I am learning to be content in understanding that the world is not as it seems. That much, at least, is obvious...