The street was quiet, the gray skies muted overhead. I'd read the email three times, and I sat on the cold concrete steps outside my house with my head in my hands, my emotions rippling just beneath the surface. The noise level in my life had risen so much the past month that it was difficult to sort out exactly what had happened and how much my life had changed. It was all kind of hazy, as if I'd suddenly leapt inside one of my dreams and not woken up. On so many levels this was a good thing, but reading my latest email had sent me plummeting from my dream into my old life.
There was little wind and no movement as I looked out across my new neighbourhood. What was I doing here? A student? At thirty-five? Perhaps it was because I'd always worked with young people, but I'd never really 'felt' my age. And since I'd never had kids, I didn't feel any different now than I had when I was twenty-five. Time, however, is inevitable, and it passes along with the seasons no matter how we feel. Donald Miller asks the question in one of his books if time passes through us, or if we pass through time. I'd never been able to decide. Until now.
I stood and moved to the edge of the driveway, my thoughts a tangled blur of lives and life, of the past and present, and of what had been and what never might be. I sipped my coffee and stared down the quiet street. A squirrel scooted from a tree across the street, and I watched him run and disappear into another tree until the road was still again.
When I was twelve, I scratched my name and address into the wood panel of one of the lamps in our living room. A month later I wrote my name in wet cement at the apartments where I delivered newspapers. Needless to say, neither my parents nor the owners were happy with either decision, and weren't shy about letting me know their 'disappointment'. I didn't blame them, but I couldn't explain my actions either. Not really. At twelve, I was beginning to develop my sense of self. It was also the first time I truly wondered about being forgotten. How a twelve year old is supposed to explain this to his parents, I'll never know, but I still remember being gripped by a great fear that I would pass away from this world as if I'd never been here.
For some reason that summer, I was possessed by that one thought. Who would know that I ever existed? By marking the lamp and the concrete, I was hoping to leave something behind, leave a reminder that I'd lived in this place. In this house. On this street. At this time.
Well, the lamp was sanded and redone, and the concrete replaced a few years ago. Yet the same questions still emerge in my life as an adult, and coincidentally, the same fears. My latest email had reminded me just how precious, and fragile, my illusions about my fears and struggles could be.
I headed back to the stoop, and leaned against the brick. I'd sent a birthday email to my newly remarried (four months) ex-wife the day before, and today she'd replied. Happy, she said. Honeymoon in the romantic capitals of Europe. A great wedding. Doing wonderfully. Starting a family soon. Please don't write again. For the best.
She was right of course, on so many levels. She was starting over, and it'd been years since we were married. And she was happy, happier than I'd ever seen her in all the years I'd known her. And while I was comforted and gladdened by her contentment, I could not help but wonder about what had been, and what never would be.
When you're young, at least until you're thirty, it's easy to believe that life will work out the way you want, that you can be anything and do everything, that you will pass through time when and how you choose. At thirty-five, your perspective changes. I hoped to marry one day and start a family, to leave behind a legacy, some sort of evidence that I'd been here, that I'd made a difference, but for now I felt like a lost stranger along an empty highway.
A divorce does a lot things to mess with your psyche. In my case, the evangelical counseling that landed the failures of the marriage completely on my shoulders (the man is the head of the household. It failed because you failed.), along with my ex's newfound happiness, weighed heavy. Maybe I wasn't compatible or suited for marriage. Maybe all those things she'd said to me so many years ago were true.
I jumped at the greeting as my youngest housemate strolled up the driveway. I forced a smile onto my face.
She looked at me, about to walk by.
"Are you okay? What's wrong?"
I felt my eyes mist and I tried to grab hold of my leaking emotions.
"No, I'm good, just got this email today..."
I couldn't hold back my emotions and quietly told her what I was feeling even as my emotions spilled into my eyes.
She sat on the stoop behind me and put her arm around my shoulder, listening, until I stopped talking. For a while, we just sat there, and I leaned my head against her knee.
I looked up at the gray skies. The things I'd expected from life as a kid had not yet happened. I wasn't sure they would. In so many ways, I didn't recognize either the path I was on or the trail I'd walked to get here. Maybe that's why I was back at Seminary, I thought, because even through the years I doubted and walked away from church, it never left that the question of our life and time was too easily pushed aside for the current cultural distractions. I suspected it had always been that way. Just as I suspected that it saddened God how easily we let other things keep us from him.
My housemate sat with me for a while longer until I thanked her and headed inside. For all that I love my life, for all that I am grateful for being able to pursue my dreams, there lives the realization that time is moving. That I am moving. And that one day it will all simply stop. On that day, I'm sure that I'll look back on my life and wonder how I got there. I'll wonder what happened to the days and years that slipped through me, and how it all went so fast.
It is the most wonderful quality of time that while it whisks through us at an incredible rate, we pass through it slowly, able to savor every moment, every second, every opportunity. And these days, I longed for someone to share my time with, to bring some kids into this great, crazy world of ours, and laugh along the discoveries of life with them. Until then, however, I needed to let it go, as hard as it was, and try to look ahead.
"Hey, are we going to the bank?"
My house mate yelled up the stairwell, and I paused in the kitchen. I'd forgotten we were going to do some errands together.
"Yeah." I said. "I'm coming."
We all have moments of reflection, and those moments can be healthy. But my prayer this week is that we would hear the eternal heartbeat of the One who made us, that we would remember the good things that has done in our life, and above all, that we would not allow the scars of the past to rob us of the future God has planned for us.
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."