If you ask me where I’m from, I will doubtless tell you about Northern Virginia. It is a singular place. It’s an even more singular place to grow up. In the midst of a largely transient community there is a sub culture of standbys who make their presence known by consistency and nothing more.
I grew up in a place where friends moved away. No one stayed anywhere long. Except for a handful of us, it seemed.
If you moved over even a few streets to a different neighborhood it felt like it could change the outcome of your whole life. You went to a different school, had different friends, and because the high schools each had specialized programs and drew certain students in from different parts of the county the makeup of each place became very distinct.
Each high school had its own reputation. Good or bad. It didn’t matter where you went though, there was a school with richer, whiter, kids calling your school “ghetto”.
I didn’t have many white friends when I was in elementary school. I’m still not sure why. Maybe because I was a standby, a regular, my father wasn’t an officer or a contractor. He was enlisted and because of my sister being an “exceptional family member” and the choice for his transfers always seeming to point overseas or to stay, we stayed.
I stayed for 22 years.
My friends didn’t seem to notice I was white until I moved to a different middle school than them. There, everyone noticed everything about me. My ugly haircut. My shy manner. My terrible clothes.
Let’s just say, I didn’t hit my stride for a while.
I learned in middle school that I needed to be angry to survive. I needed to be mean. In high school I learned that I needed to stay angry and question everything.
The pace of life just got faster as I let academics and extra curriculars swallow my time. After graduating, work added itself to the dizzying spiral of events that consumed every waking moment. I would get up and leave the house for the day, all day.
Even though I was living on my own, I barely got to enjoy time to myself. Doing and achieving was too important and I was behind.
It wasn’t until a series of traumas ripped the track out from under me and sent my train wreck of a life over the edge of an unscalable cliff that I came to a screeching halt.
During each event everything that I thought was important would tumble out of reach and I’d spend the lulls between them being scattered picking up what fell just to lose grip again.
During this time, I got married, lost jobs, got jobs, lost my savings, dropped out of college, and lost a ton of friends. The last five years have been full of failing at almost every kind of existing.
I didn’t realize that I was still angry. The effects of my surroundings had done little to soften the rage incurred by my childhood.
Do you ever forget to breathe? You don’t notice you’re holding your breath until you have to gasp for air. It isn’t the absence of oxygen that reminds you, it’s when you’re body decides to breathe in. It’s the presence of the new air that makes it click that breathing has somehow switched over to manual without your noticing.
That’s what it has been like to live in Oklahoma. I didn’t realize how many years I spent balling my fists, holding my breath, tensing my shoulders; until I learned to let go.
Sure, I still get mad. But I’m not in a constant state of being angry. I actually relax every once in a while. I don’t fight for one-sided friendships. I don’t get hung up on things. I just move on and move past. To some people this seems like I’m giving up too easily. But I’m not. I’ve fought long and hard enough. Relationships that aren’t working don’t have to work. Sure, I look like a jerk for cutting off contact. But it isn’t mine to maintain. Nothing is just mine to maintain. I’m tired of toiling in a garden that everyone eats from but no one wants to weed or prune.
If there is a fable that reminds me of Northern Virginia, it isn’t “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Though, it could stand to slow down. Instead, it’s the Hen and the Bread. She sets out to make a loaf of bread and keeps asking the same question in different contexts.
“Who will help me sow the wheat?”
“Who will help me harvest the wheat?”
“Who will help me grind the wheat?”
So on and so forth.
Who will help me?
Everyone wants to help her eat the bread, but no one wants to help her get to the end result.
I grew up in a world where we were taught to work hard and fast to have bread. To have something to show; a degree, a job, a house, a new car. But it was never enough. It’s never been enough for me. I constantly fight the urge to think I’m not working hard enough because I don’t have enough followers, enough published work, a “proper education”, the right credentials, the stamina to do more be more have more.
But being chronically ill has (painfully) taught me that life isn’t about what I have to show.
Doug and I joke that if someone broke into our house they would be very disappointed. The other night, while walking the dog, I smiled and said hello to a guy wearing what could have been a mugger uniform. I didn’t even think to be scared. Even if I had my purse and he was out to steal anything he’d maybe get two bucks and a stick of Burt’s Bees. Two bucks in change and Burt’s Bees of questionable origin.
I’m not saying that moving to a different part of the country has solved my problems. It hasn’t. I’m also not saying that you should smile at everyone walking outside my store at 10 PM.
But living here has shifted my perspective. Here, I heard Doug ask an old friend how a high school classmate was doing. The response?
“As well as a guy without a family, I guess.”
Everywhere wants you to have something to show. In Oklahoma, it’s a family, a house, whatever. Back in Virginia, it was a degree and a job, and the extras.
I have none of the above. Talk to me when my store is paid up, my books are selling, and I have a family. I’ll still tell you I have nothing to show for my life. Chances are there will be something else I wish I was doing, I wish I had done, or I wish I had.
Without GOD, this is all meaningless. I don’t get to see the eternal consequences of my life without Him. Without Jesus, without a reason, I have nothing. Without the worth apportioned to me by Christ’s death for me, I am worth nothing eternally. I’m a flash in the pan. So why make more people? Why try to make myself into something “more”? What consequence does my life have if at the end of it I’m just dead? Sure, you can be altruistic and say that the ripples of my life flow ever onward and impact the lives of those after me. But selfishly? That doesn’t mean much to me unless it’s for a reason and that reason is eternal.
There is no life in the temporal. Scriptures say that eternity has been written on the hearts of man. Of course it has. Why would we even think about what happens after we die if it wasn’t? There is no reason to care.
I will never have anything to show for my life. But I do want GOD to have something to show for it. So I will keep improving, keep doing good, keep loving, keep sowing wheat and making bread; because He will help. It isn’t my life. It’s GOD’s.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/155918164/”>Thomas Hawk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>