This is a repost from my previous blog, written on October 1, 2012. In the past few years, the power of narrative has been shaping the way I understand the human experience. This blog was an expression of my personal pain, but I believe it touches on our deep need for meaning, for significance, and to find ourselves in our own story. It’s a part, I think, of God’s unique mark on man and the inherent longing we have for the eternal.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
I remember a time in 2nd grade when I was an Indian. My neighbor and I would hunt wild buffalo in the living room with our bows and arrows. My bow was plastic and blue, and my arrows were yellow and soft. His younger sister was my wife. She was blonde with green eyes and not very pretty, but she was the most beautiful woman in the land. We lived in a hut under the dining room table. She cooked meals for us at home. The food was invisible, and delicious. It was play, but it was vivid and vibrant. We were at the center of our lives, the main characters in the story, living in the fullness of it, the present.
It wasn’t a fantasy, off in the far past or in the distant future, but rather an immediate, living reality—life, in the pure present. I know in many ways it was just a game, but how do I explain what was really there? The world was real. It was a place that hummed with life and glowed with significance, as if at any moment anything could happen, and it would matter. It was our world; it belonged to us and we belonged there. We filled it with life. It lived for us; its heart beat for us.
And then my parents came home. The game was up. My friends left, back to their house next door. Adults came over, and they discussed important things that I couldn’t understand. I was just a kid, playing, in the way. I took a nap and escaped back to my world, my reality, where I fought aliens to save the world and discovered new lands with hidden treasures waiting to be found, where I was lost in just the right places in the middle of deserts and jungles and castles, where I was friends with heroes and legends, beggars and kings. The world was limitless, yet it was always within reach. All time was concentrated into living moments, a perpetual and unbroken present space and time, moving life forward.
I woke up and my room was dark, and my bed hid in the shadow of the door cracked open. I peeked through the crevice of light coming through. The adults were laughing—not with grace and warmth, but with arrogance, like self-indulged teenagers. It was clear to me that whatever they were doing and saying was vastly more important than me, their matters more real than mine. They had taken center stage, shoving my world into the periphery of significance, at once dispelling my reality and stripping me of the ability to find it again. I no longer inhabited the present. Real time, the time of the living present, was somewhere else, apart from me, happening without me and with no concern for me. I was disturbed. I felt separated from myself, dislodged, dislocated. My present had betrayed me. I hid in my bed, exposed like a fool without an audience. I prayed for a spell to enchant me, for some magic to bring me back in.
From that moment time began to fracture more and more, gradually rather than suddenly, in small things quickly forgotten. It happened again in a friend’s tree house, where we swore we’d stay forever and live freely, away from school and parents—until, of course, it got too cold and we got hungry and bored. I wasn’t even that close to him; I just wanted it to be real. It happened again in middle school when across the gym I saw the cool kids, boys talking to girls and girls giggling. I joined them, but saw that it was just a game, that what I came for wasn’t there, or that I had perhaps just missed it. It happened with a close friend, a girl who drew me with her beauty. I searched her heart, and found it wasn’t there either. I emerged to find her beauty faded and her glimmer dulled. She had lost it. She wasn’t who I thought, or at least not what I wanted anymore. It happened in my room a few years ago, in the night, as I laid alone. Everyone else in the world was sleeping, waiting with purpose for the morning. They all seemed to have it without even knowing it. And then, it happened again a few months ago. And again, a few days ago. And again today. It happens every time I see a sunset, an ocean, a cloudy sky, or a mountain range; every time I look at old pictures with my family or reminisce with friends about our childhood; every time I watch a good movie, eat a good meal, come home late, or take a shower early in the morning; and it happens every time I wake up from a nap.
I swear, sometimes I can almost see it in those things. I can smell its scent in a good book, recall its taste and feel in a somber song, but I can’t find it, the place I need to be, that present. I can’t grasp it and live in it again, let it fill me. Yet it grazes me in my memories, passes by like a familiar stranger, like a friend I’d forgotten or a lover I wish I’d known. People tell me it’s called nostalgia. They say it’s normal, that I just need to get used to it and move on. But I swear, the nostalgia calls me, beckons toward something else, something real that luminates from the edges of memories, murmurs through their cracks and between their lines. It’s the wistfulness of a hug goodbye. It’s what the widow sees in a dusty portrait of her lost love. It’s the echo in your foggy gaze watching a cartoon you enjoyed as a child, and in your half-smile playing with your old favorite toy. It’s the pain at the end of every story, that sober moment after, and the endless days to come. It’s a soundless music, an unknowable beauty, an awful mystery hiding in our very midst, on the tip of our tongue, right beneath our noses, looming over us and pressed against our chest: the living moment, the present.
For now we see in a mirror dimly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
-1 Corinthians 13:12
Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
-2 Corinthians 5:2-3
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope… into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.
-1 Peter 1:3-4
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
“Where, except in the present, can the eternal be met?”
–C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections