We spend a third of our life asleep, a third of our working years at a job, and the other third as we choose. The most important parts of our life, family and friends, often only occupy a fraction of our time.
I’ve been acutely aware of the passage of time lately. Death has been on my mind. Not in a morbid sense but in a “I want to live more fully” way. My day is coming. Am I using my 16 waking hours everyday well?
I bumped into my Dad unexpectedly on Friday. He was having lunch with his coworkers. I was having lunch with mine. As I sat at a distance and watched him talk, laugh, eat his meal...it hit me. This is a huge chunk of his life I have very little to do with.
It’s the necessary third of life that is largely disconnected from the third that we believe is most important. The same is true for me. I can tell him about my job, but very little of the experience is actually shared.
So much of our life happens separate from the ones that are closest.
I’ve been around my dad thousands of hours over the last twenty-nine years, and there was still that hint of unfamiliarity when our work worlds crossed paths. I felt the exact same thing the first time I had lunch at Lacie’s hospital and met her coworkers.
Even with the most intimate relationships in our life, there are complex systems and experiences that seem normal to them and foreign to us. Swirling in between the compartments of our individual worlds are nuances we’ve yet to uncover about each other.
It makes me more interested in my loved ones. It makes me more determined to understand them better, to be curious again. It also makes me want to keep tipping that time scale, to figure out a way to break the rule of thirds and integrate more fully.
The reverse lights in my first car stopped working after several years. When the problem wasn’t fixed by simply swapping the bulbs, I assumed it was more complicated (and expensive) and decided to leave it be.
For years I assumed there was a wiring or electrical issue that would cost more than it was worth to fix. In fact, I’m pretty sure one repair shop quoted me something astronomical, so I gave up on the idea of repairing it and instead found a way to live with it.
I mastered the art of balancing my feet using the clutch, gas, and just enough brake pedal to utilize the brake lights as I was backing up. Dark, rainy nights posed a little bit of a challenge, but for the most part, I got used to not having reverse lights.
After many years of avoiding the issue, I asked another repair shop on a whim what they thought it might be. “Swapping the bulbs didn’t work, and another guy told me I would have to replace the electrical system. What do you think?”
“Let me take a look,” the mechanic said as he popped the hood. He disappeared for a minute then came back to explain what he found.
“Yeah, I’ve seen a few other cars with this problem. It’s a simple fix, though. There’s a little switch on the top of the transmission that goes bad sometimes. It will only cost you $20.”
Years with no reverse lights, fixed in less than five minutes for $20. I was thrilled, embarrassed, frustrated, relieved. Now all these years later, I’m happy it happened that way, because I see something now I didn’t see then.
I learned to live with a problem I didn’t have to live with. I tried to fix something and failed. I got one opinion then gave up. I learned to cope with the issue when the solution was actually pretty simple.
You see what I’m getting at?
We do it all the time. We have an issue. We don’t personally know the solution. We make a halfhearted attempt to seek help but give up too quickly. We go years living with the weight of something we never needed to carry that long.
Have your reverse lights been out for a while? Have you found a way to get a little bit of light to see where you’re going but not what you really need or could have? You’ve figured out how to cope. Go get a second opinion. The solution may not be as distant as you thought.
When I arrived home last week from a work trip, I found a little note from Lacie titled “What I miss when you’re gone.” Aside from immediately feeling loved, I started thinking about what we all start to see when those we love are gone.
Her list, this idea of what stands out when loved ones are absent temporarily or for the rest of this life, is something each of us who have been around more than a few years can relate to.
The presence of an absence is like a highlighter, circling the things that normally blended in with the rest of the page but we now see in the forefront. We didn’t necessarily even realize we liked those parts until they’re absent.
Whether it’s a loved one passing or a separation that forces this lens upon us, buried into our lives are these little markers that will fill our hearts with the joy and sorrow of remembrance.
They’re blessings and curses. Ghosts and “good times.” It makes holidays happy and hard. It makes the heart grow fonder and the eventual heartbreak harder. Above all, it makes me more grateful right now, today, for what’s still present.
I remember thinking, “What happens when I run out of ideas?” Committing to writing once a week meant at some point there would 200 posts, 2,000 posts, and so on.
I realized after a couple years, though, for as long as I was listening, the well didn’t run dry. When I committed to posting weekly it forced a discipline that required an open posture.
Now each week feels like I’m waiting to receive something. I’m not forcing myself to “come up with something.” I get to see. And week after week, a light bulb goes on, I know that’s the thing, and then I share it with you all.
It’s a practice of presence, and whatever discipline gets you there, I couldn’t recommend it more.
The listening, the anticipation, the waiting, the act of being aware...I believe it’s shielded me from the crushing weight of what can seem like the monotony of life.
Everything is interesting. Every interaction is meaningful. A bad experience just makes a great story. A mistake made is just a lesson learned and shared. Becoming a better observer makes you a more capable participant.
I do still have to clean the lens. It gets dirty, fogged, smudged. I wonder why I don’t feel like I’m growing, then I remember it’s a seeing problem. But I am at least now aware of the lens, and that’s been a surprising, unexpected benefit from writing these last few years.
In the back of the used book was a note with the words “CT scan, suite 210.” I can’t help but imagine what was happening in the life of the person who held these pages before me. Was this forgotten bookmark an indication of a battle I know nothing about?
For you non-medical folks like myself, a CT scan is used to create detailed images of structures in the body. From damaged bones to extreme cancers, the CT scan is how we see what’s going on inside.
Was this person potentially finding out life-changing news? Had they been diagnosed with something that would challenge everything within them? I can only imagine, but given the context of the book I bought, I do wonder...
The author writes in the introduction about a crossroads. At the time, they saw two alternatives: 1) continue practicing and promoting a version of Christianity they had deep reservations about, 2) leave ministry and perhaps the faith altogether.
As I sit here and wait for my oil to be changed, I see the previous owner of this book in the same lobby, reading this same book, potentially dealing with the same doubt, despair, longing, as the writer describes on these first pages.
I see someone who, despite tragic news and life-altering circumstances, is reaching for truth, searching for what’s real, for hope. The pursuit, though painful and confusing, remains a priority. They don’t want to give up.
The oil in the car still has to be changed, though. The kids still have to be picked up. The bills still must be paid. The Christmas party next weekend is still happening. And the cancer/sickness/disease/suffering continues.
One of my favorite parts of going to my Grandmother’s house is seeing the photos, notes with quotes, and cards that have been selected and put on display. One in particular caught my attention the last time we were there.
“Faith in God’s goodness keeps hope alive.”
Strategically placed on a picture of pain in your life, this statement is loaded. I keep finding time and time again, pain is the doorway through which you enter into a level of communion with God that’s so hard to find otherwise.
Was this book bought by someone on the precipice of giving up? Was the motivation for reading it an effort to hang on? Were they desperately looking for God’s goodness?
Their heart speaks, “Surely, hopefully, God’s goodness is real and present, even in this circumstance, even in the darkness.”
I think that’s the tradition we see woven through the history of this faith. Wrestling. Crossroads. Doubts. We think there are two alternatives: stay or leave. And then God, in the midst of it all shines light into our soul, and we see in a new way, through different eyes.
Personally, I hope I’m wrong about the back story I’ve inferred. I hope it was just to check a broken bone from a mild dirt bike wipeout while cruising the backwoods of their family’s property. Either way, I’m thankful for an unexpected note to give me pause and perspective.