If You’re in the Shadow: Thoughts as You Watch the Big One Coming.

If You’re in the Shadow: Thoughts as You Watch the Big One Coming.

I’ve had this dream, over and over I’ve had it, about a giant wave coming from far away—towering over everything and casting a shadow on thousands of people as we watch it. It always starts out as a pleasant day on the beach. It always ends with me wondering why I decided to go to the beach, on this day of all days. 

Every time, I go through the same set of thoughts.

  1. If I run as fast as I can it will still be too little too late. I can’t outrun it.
  2. There is nothing that could shelter me from the coming blast.
  3. While it’s taking a minute to get here, it will come, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
  4. Everyone here with me is going to get hit by it too.
  5. The only thing I can do is find something to hold on to.

And so I always end up running anyway, but not to try to get away. I run, looking at everything around me. Cars. Buildings. Mailboxes. Until I find an object that goes deep into the ground and that I think I can get a good grip on. It might be a tree, or a lamp post. But whatever it is I grab it with my arms and legs and hold on tight as I watch the giant wave coming in. And I hope, with everything that is in me, that I have chosen the right thing to hold on to. Because now it is too late to choose anything else.

Every time I see the news and every time I actually allow myself to think fully about what is happening in the world or how really scared I should be, I see the wave. It’s a vision almost now, more than a dream. I remember it as if it had really happened. 

What am I holding on to? Is anything I’m holding on to something that will simply be crushed and washed away by the wave that is coming? Do I have time to adjust my grip? But it’s too late now, really to do much about what I’m holding on to. I can cling tighter to what I’ve already brought near, but I have no time to go looking for anything else. No time to develop a new heart attitude or place of trust. Things are frozen as I watch the wave. 

We’re in the shadows now. It’s coming.

I know that it would be kinder to write something uplifting or hopeful. And I’d like to give you that. But what I really want to say is, make sure you are holding on the right things. Adjust your grip if you can. Don’t worry about anything that will be washed away.

The wave is coming. I’d better be holding on to God himself at this point, and hope that I have never made any substitutions. Never erected something in His place and given it His name. My faith is not enough. My religion is not enough. My church is not enough. My creeds are not enough. Only the Unmoved Mover of the Universe stand firm through tidal waves this big.

If it helps, the dream never ends with the wave crashing. I always look through the swirling chaos, and see light overhead. I find myself somehow letting go and navigating the water, knowing I still may yet surface. And it is almost fun. The wave is not the end at all—though the world behind me has surely been washed away and I will surface to find out what is left.

We have a moment now as the water recedes to leave dry land in front of us to feed the wall of water, and we hear the roaring of the approaching wave. Take a deep breath and hold on. 

 

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

“I love old things. They make me sad.”
“What’s good about sad?”
“It’s happy, for deep people.”
-Sally Sparrow, Dr. Who-

…the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I stared at the old black box with wooden paneling on the top. I pressed the buttons, knowing exactly how they would feel before I did. The numbers along the radio tuner were so familiar I closed my eyes and saw them in my mind while I ran my fingers over where they were. I could still hear the way it would sound, early in the morning before school. I still could feel the anxiety about a new day of school coming, or the occasional excitement when I was anticipating something good. I knew the clicking sound the snooze button would make, on a morning I was avoiding getting up, without even having to touch it again.

My Mom gave me my old alarm clock when I was 5 years old (though it wasn’t old then, and wood paneling was still something people insisted on putting onto appliances). She thought that I should start building up the habit of getting up early for school independently. Funny enough, my Mom could rarely hold herself back from waking me five minutes before it went off anyway. I remember how that felt too. Knowing how deeply my Mom cared while simultaneously feeling her anxiety about time and my own yearning for autonomy.

It’s funny the way one mundane object can make you feel.

I don’t actually like to feel sad. But I’ve always had this feeling well up in me that I half love half hate that inspires me more than any other that is just so very close to sad. I’ve always struggled to describe it. It’s not the main feeling you get when your dog dies, or your favorite TV show gets canceled–though those kinds of things can cause it too.

It’s a longing for a time when things were more right. More perfect. More like they are supposed to be.

I used to sit alone with my own thoughts trying to figure out exactly where this feeling was coming from and how to fix it. The feeling, if it’s something you can feel, is more like nostalgia. The way people feel when they think about the way we used to tune our TV’s with knobs, or the exact weight of the needle on a record player as you set it gently down on the vinyl. It’s the way a rotary phone or the touch tone dials feel when you dial a number that you used to call all the time. The memories you get when you make the cookies from your grandmother’s recipe and you smell that smell.

I constantly sort through feelings like this. I sat for almost an hour staring at that stupid alarm clock, knowing I wasn’t even going to plug it in again. Not all my memories around that clock are happy, exactly, but it came from a time when I wasn’t an adult. I wasn’t solely responsible for caring for myself. My worries were smaller. I did not have to take care of so many relationships, or be in charge of running the finances of a home and keeping three children alive, and hopefully, healthy and well-adjusted. It feels like it had to be better in some ways. Ok, not better. But less complicated.

Nostalgia is the sad feeling you get when you remember something happy that doesn’t exist anymore.

Did you know that all the cells in your body completely replace themselves about every 7 years? I’ve always remembered this, because it makes me think of the various versions of myself I have been. That girl, the one that used to slam the snooze button in high school to avoid getting ready for another tense day of academics I loved and social situations that made me feel queazy–that girl is gone. Every single cell that existed in her body died and was replaced years ago. All that is left are the memories which are made of neurons which copied other dying neurons.  She’s a memory of a memory. I don’t even have any way of knowing how accurate what I remember about her is.

Right now I think our world is really into nostalgia. We long for times that existed before we were born. We think of ourselves as owning the past and the peoples we came from when really, all we know are stories told about stories told about stories. We actually take personal pride in the exact version of things that make us feel our own nostalgia. Maybe it’s memories of hard working people during the Great Depression. Maybe it’s members of the Greatest Generation that we Loved. Maybe it’s days when kids used to run free more. Maybe it’s the swelling in the chest at old protests or liberation movements. Maybe it’s a memory of a road that used to be in the country, but has been civilized now. Maybe it’s a neighborhood that used to be rough, but has sadly become upscale.

We take our identities from these things. What we long for is part of who we are.

But so much of it has fallen through the cracks by now. What remains was sifted out by the victorious and powerful, and if we’re occasionally lucky, true historians, artists, and dreamers trying to capture the truth.

Most people I know are trying to match the world up to some idea of rightness. Some long gone memory that things can be right, though now they are wrong. Our desire for redemption is just so strong. We may have different ideas of what that redemption looks like, different goals and ideals. But it’s there. We’re not seeking to add more random outcomes to a randomly generated universe. We look to restore and correct in a reality where everything is drifting toward entropy. Why do we do that? How many millions of decisions are made in subconsciously trying to recapture something that has long ago left us?

But the thing is, I think rightness is something to be made, not something to recapture. It’s going to be new. Not old. Maybe we are inspired by the past, but I think we are called to build a new story together. With all the siren voices calling out in anger right now over politics, theology, fundamentalism, or whatever, what if they unified to create something new, instead of trying to recapture something old?

Maybe it’s more remarkable that the cells in my body were newly generated to keep me alive than that they once all died. Maybe what we can make together in the future matters more than what we once were. Maybe knowing how universal some of what we long for is can unite us in what we will one day be glad that we did.

I set up my old clock in the basement, for now. It tells time to the spiders and mice, and me occasionally when I’m sifting through piles of old junk. Smelling. Smiling. Remembering. It’s worth something, the sad joy of memory, for sure. But I think it’s a small part of building up what is to come.

And one day, I will be nostalgic for now. For baby clothes and bruised knees. For piggy back rides and little boy giggles. For late night feedings and falling into bed exhausted.

And the truly odd thing is, thinking of that makes me feel that same longing for what I DO have right now. And for what is coming. And it makes me think that longing for the same things, all of us together, is not such a crazy dream.