I rather like the reality that you were born on September 10 in 1928 and I was born on September 08 in 1978. Not quite a perfect fifty year span, but two days shy is close enough for me to qualify it as a perfection.
I haven’t reached forty yet, so I can’t write a clever blog post asking how life has changed from your first fifty years on towards how things have changed to our shared forty. But thirty-nine is close enough for me to qualify it as perfection.
Now a question: did you ever feel like the first forty or fifty years of your life maybe was a bit of a lost time?
Let’s be fair: we can probably eliminate the first five years of life. I have rather distinct memories from that time, but I know many people who don’t. While I realize these are formative years — clearly not a waste of any time at all — most of what happens in our young lives happen TO us, rather than BECAUSE of us or our choices.
Heck, let’s knock off everything up until the age of eighteen. I know our brains aren’t matured yet, and it’s more than likely we both have already tried straining for our independence, worked to make memories as teenagers, and have experienced traumatic events that perhaps have grown us up faster than we’d liked. But it can act as a mutually agreeable barometer of adulthood for both us. Fair?
When you were eighteen, what did you hope life would be like by the time you were forty?
I planned to be married, have four children (a boy, a girl, and twins — a boy and a girl; while I know people can’t quite plan for these sorts of things so neatly, my newly minted adult self was pretty set on the balance).
I also planned to have five books published — I have one year (minus two days already) to meet that goal, and I don’t think seminary life is going to allow me the time to magically generate five illuminating volumes.
I planned to have opened a drop-in house where marginalized youth could come, find safety, meals, work with all kinds of artistic forms, practice spirituality, and create community. I’ve been close a few times, but it’s never really materialized.
All along, I’ve lived and worked in spaces that would bring me closer to these goals. And yet, I haven’t achieved or been given or ‘been blessed with’ any one of them. My life has not turned out at all how I planned it.
I could take up valuable time by explaining the intricacies about why these goals haven’t been achieved by this point in my life, but that would be, quite frankly, depressing. I would also like to avoid married parent-types who favour saying “But you were meant for something else!” (all the while still upholding marriage and family life as the single most holy form of connection with God there is).
“Loneliness is a taste of death.”
You were fifty when I born. Did you ever regret your life choices? Were you ever bitter about wanting other things for yourself, but were prevented from having them?
I’d like to think your answer would be a “both/and” answer, rather than an “either/or”.
I lived for eleven years in a small basement suite that afforded me more room than many people in the world experience, but less room (and almost zero natural sunlight) than other people in the world. In the summer, the air conditioning was luscious and natural. After long days with lots of people interaction, it became my Fortress of Solitude (do you even watch Superman?). I chose what I wanted to watch on Netflix, and was able to live unashamedly with my liking for horror and supernatural movies. I chose what to eat and when. I chose how messy the place became. I chose my schedule.
It wasn’t until this year that a trusted counsellor pointed out to me that I was exemplifying symptoms of human isolation: ongoing dysthymia with frequent bouts of deep depression, vitamin deficiencies, headaches, anxiety, paranoia (I mean, I HAD TO lock the world away a lot of the time because the world was DANGEROUS), withdrawal from others, skin and light sensitivities, and…loneliness.
Have you ever hated interacting the world so badly that you’ve had to hide on a daily basis, but battled with the inevitable loneliness that comes with such a protectionist lifestyle?
While the depression I was coming to understand better, I had not idea that my entire system was slowly dying away. I thought I had friendships, and then I didn’t. I had a vision of intimate friendship, and then…it wasn’t. Yet it was not really appropriate to talk about either: that little place was one of the few places I could afford to live and it was keeping a dry roof over my head. Who was I to complain?
I’m not complaining about the basement suite. I’m only sharing the effects it had on me living there for over a decade by myself as I watched the years go by without any sign of any dreams emerging. Someone else may have had entirely different responses and experiences.
Yet it wasn’t until I was forced to move out and began living in even smaller spaces still, but places with sunlight and fresh air, that I felt myself perking up if you will. My breathing deepened. My skin felt hungry for sunlight and my system actually wanted it. Whereas before, I knew I was hungry for the sun but had no drive to bundle up, go out, and be in public spaces just to soak in needed vitamin D.
Even in staying with my parents or living in shared quarters at seminary, I’ve noticed just how far from community I’ve been. I never had to make dinner conversation. Who was there to talk to? I already knew what happened in my own day. Even before the basement suite, I lived the majority of my adult life alone. How is it you and your family find things to talk about all the time at meals? It mystifies me!
All this to say…I’m training to become a pastor now. I feel like I’m actually stepping into life for the first time. Truly, I may have been in step all along but there was always a darkness, always a desire just out of reach that I worked hard for or prayed for that never materialized, always doors closed. I was stuck.
Maybe it really did have to be God yanking me out by my roots because God knew that I would never have the strength to do so myself, wanting to preserve what little I had.
I’m likely never going to have my boy, my girl, and my twins. That grief is going to be a long-lasting one which people will need to be patient with me over. However, as the fog of isolation clears, writing books is still a vibrant possibility as are relationships. Stepping into formal ministry might give me all sorts of possibilities to live into a community house dream for youth.
You’re smiling right now, aren’t you?
The isolated person dreaming of community.
Now isn’t that just precisely what you write about that warms your heart?
Until next time,