Tuesday, August 31, 2010

still me

During breakfast one day this week I had a candid conversation with my daughter Mercedes.  Sharing the morning while the rest of the house slept with this beautiful young woman was surreal.  There she sat, eyes focused, mind sharp, slight grin on her face...amazing.  I left the house still feeling as if I were having an out-of-body experience, and spent most of the bus ride trying to re-anchor myself to reality.  Who was this person sitting at my dining room table?  It wasn't that the conversation was all that heavy.  It was just the experience.  Somewhere between 19th street and I-240, I realized that the source of my disconnectedness with the experience was that I had expected someone else to go through these types of things.  I wouldn't have imagined it would still be...well...me.  But it was.

Seventeen years ago, before my freshman year in college, I started donating blood regularly.  I met lots of interesting people, but one nurse in particular made an impression on me--literally and figuratively.  Literally, she made an impression on me because her septuagenarian hands weren't as stable as they might have once been; so, the needle started removing flesh a good inch before the ultimate puncture point as it scraped along my inner arm.  Figuratively because of what her disarming blue eyes said.  I will never forget them.  Those eyes communicated a vibrant woman who had lived much.  But it was more than experience that they communicated.  They spoke of something that didn't grow old.  It's as if I could see something about who she was while her weathered hands and deeply-lined face only told the story of where she'd been.  The more interesting story of who she really was could only be partially inferred.  I knew that the same (fiery) essence that radiated through her eyes had done so since her body was young and strong.  She was beautiful, and I remember thinking then that I wanted to be like her.

I guess I lost track of that desire.  Or maybe I never fully appropriated it.  More likely, I didn't have the wisdom to reconcile it with reality.  Sitting on the bus, I remembered that nurse.  I recognized that between the time I met her and my surreal morning with Mercedes, I had unconsciously been assuming that someone else would be going through these life experiences--not me--even though I was (at times numbly) walking through them.  I further refined the thought until I could see that it was my expectation to have changed essentially by this point in life--so that the "me" going through today isn't the same "me" I was when I was younger.  It would be some sort of "future Dave".  Surely the husband of such a kind, loving, and faithful wife couldn't be the same punk she started out with 16 years before.  But it's still me.  Surely the father of such beautiful young women would be a different guy than the immature kid that is still noticeably present.  Nope...still me.  Surely God wouldn't use such a messed-up, loud-mouthed, intolerant (how many comma-separated adjectives are allowed?) hack.  It's still me, and I'm surprised by that to say the least.  But after further reflection, I am absolutely delighted because, for someone who struggles to cope with the unrecoverable passage of time, receiving such a grace is liberating.

I look at photos, I look at the mirror, and it's almost funny to see the man looking back.  The deepening lines on my face tell the story of miles traveled, and parts of my soul have either fallen off, been broken off, or beaten into a different shape, but it's still me.  That is to say, essentially it's still me.  Sure, in many ways I've changed, but I feel much the same from the inside.  My eyes feel the same.  Or rather, from behind them, it feels like the same essence as the punk kid from 20 years ago.  I realized that I had, at times, put all the responsibility and pressure on "future Dave".  I had at times put all the potential joy and experience on "future Dave".  But it turns out that "future Dave" is just me.  Some things have changed and will continue to do so--things like my affections.  Some affections polarize and solidify.  Some happily die.  A few (arguably one affection and those right ones that precipitate) grow hotter by the day, carefully tendered from within by the uncontainable.  My appetites change, but the important things remain; chocolate is still a gift from God.  Coffee is a new-found gift on the level of manna.  I'm still enthralled with the wife of my youth--more so than ever.  On the right day, when I'm not battered and burdened, I experience again how she is marvelous to me, and my heart quickens like it did 16 years ago when everything was new.

In fact, the newness of experience for the things that really matter doesn't fade with repetition.  It grows, or, perhaps more precisely, resonates with more depth being connected through an ever-developing timeline.  What an amazing gift!  That thrill of exploring the unknown depths of the seemingly familiar is something that connects with the "still me" in ways that novelty and vanity (cheap imitations) can't.  I am strangely quickened by essential things, and the passage of time doesn't diminish that joy.  My body continues carrying the essence that I expected to be "future Dave" but is really just me and drinks in the rush of new experiences.  Experiences like having a baby girl, watching her grow, speaking to her as a woman, and (I anticipate) watching her start a family of her own.  It drinks in the thrill of being in love with Letha even though our love is old enough to drive.  What a thrill!  And it's still me--not someone else!  That is so weird.  Until I start feeling around in the deep areas of my heart (worn smooth through test and trial), I don't feel any different than I did when I was just a little older than Mercedes.  At the best times, I can recapture the same feeling I had when much, much younger.  I'm the same guy in the most important ways because Christ renews and sustains me to grow and glorify Him through those experiences.  What a wonderful gift of grace.  It's hard to receive at times because it's costly, but it is wonderful.

What's more, I don't think it ends here.  This must be a clue to what heaven is like.  Sure, this life is a shallow, and comparatively-colorless reflection, but it's still a clue.  It won't be "future Dave" conversing with patriarchs, walking streets of gold, breathing celestial air, and exploring the cosmos.  It won't be some vapory spirit floating around.  My body, redeemed from the curse of sin, will be made incorruptible--capable of new passions, new sensations, new joys.  That rush of being in love, that joy of being challenged intellectually, that feeling of being able to run faster and jump higher because of new shoes will never stop increasing.  With each passing moment of eternity, I, through my redeemed body,  will experience a continual onslaught of joy and pleasure.  And when my redeemed faculties have reached their capacity for experience, they will be expanded much like zooming out from an exponential graph: the shape remains the same but the scale radically expands.  Contrasted to eternity, eons of growth, adventure, and exuberant joy will still find me in relative infancy.  An infancy that, due to the infinitude of time, will never end.  It will always be new, but all of those future experiences will resonate through the extent of my true and essential experiences that start here.  (What a gift the linearity of time is for humanity!  But that's a different topic.)  That same grace that transforms me here--allowing me to revel in the constancy rather than projecting onto some "future Dave"--will allow me to grow without limit for all eternity.  C.S. Lewis described it as "further up, and further in."  The Bible describes it as "in Your presence is fullness of joy, and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  It will be me...the same me...same punk kid...the same eyes...the same near-incredulity at the experience.  That's just crazy beautiful.

Five bucks says I'll recognize the nurse when I see her.

1 comment:

Pastor Marrell said...

wow, i really enjoyed reading that. It is amazing just like you put it to realize, that it is still me. Amazing post brother.