Ira’s voice in my ear as I run makes my plodding along blur the trees while the road zips by in my peripheral vision. I have feet like a deer and suddenly I’ve run 8 miles.
The college edition from last year (“How I Got Into College”) makes me laugh out loud – guffaw – and cough and hack as I choke on saliva I forgot was collecting near my throat – my mouth wide open gasping for air. These American lives, these stories. An admissions officer talks about an email he received from a parent inquiring about their engineering program. For his son. The email reads:
“My second grader has decided on a career in electrical engineering. He is leaning towards MIT, but I do not find them helpful and would prefer a Southern culture.”
I mean, really? Really?!?!?!?!?
I had to stop and put my hands on my knees. Closed my eyes and just laughed. Really hard.
And then the second and third acts are about Emir Kamenica – a Bosnian-born professor at the University of Chicago, and how he came to America as a refugee through a series of “accidents” and good fortunes. It’s a story he loves to tell and includes a particular high school teacher who changed the course of his trajectory so that he ended up a student at a prestigious private school, eventually at Harvard, and now a young, brilliant scholar of economics.
The twist is that the way he tells the story is different from the way his teacher, Ms. Ames, tells it. She knew he was destined for great things. He thought he got out alive by the skin of his teeth. Either way, I’m running and crying at the same time. Because this line hits me:
“It’s as if the more he told the story, the more grateful he became.”
I need to tell more stories.
It’s only running and church (although typically not at the same time) that really truly gets the writer’s blood pumping for me. Sundays are full with two church services. I am at the first church, and aware that it is the first Sunday, a communion Sunday, and I see the table up front is empty. Later, the guest preacher mentions that they decided to not do communion because they anticipated low attendance for this particular Sunday.
I’m terribly disappointed.
At the second church I’m looking at the communion table covered in gold-colored plates and trays, candles, and a small loaf of bread. I get to have an up close view because of the children’s sermon when I have to make sure one of the hellions that belongs to me doesn’t attempt the magic trick of pulling out the sheet from underneath the table elements.
The table is so neat, polished, organized – pretty and in order. Decently, in order. I can’t help but flashback to the morning with the kids around the table for breakfast. Ozzie is covered in Nutella and yogurt. Cheerios underfoot covering every possible square inch of carpet (it’s a rental – we would NEVER in our right minds ever have carpet in the dining room). Little pools of milk all over the table from eating cereal. Plastic animals and car tracks making lines of milk and fruit. Too many utensils on the table and under chairs. Ellis, the boxer dog, frantically eating as much as possible on the floor and up on the table before I get a chance to yell at her to get out of here.
“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.”
― Annie Dillard
Standing before all these tables I come face to face with my emptiness. My lack. My insanity. My desperation. At so many levels, I can smell and feel the depths of my falling short and being such an eff-up.
But, God confronts me, too. God’s strange grace. It’s there, too. And I can’t help but be resignedly grateful.
The story of the flood. I can imagine a little what it would be like being on a boat. These weren’t water/boat people, I think. What did they do for seasickness??? Andy and I went on a whale-watching tour during our honeymoon and I missed most of it. Because I was laid out on my back or dry heaving over the side of the boat. The sound alone would have driven away humans and whales.
I can remember feeling panic for a moment. Being in the middle of the ocean with nothing but water and sky for miles. I remember what it’s like to feel that in my soul, too. No way out. No rescue. No relief. No land or solid ground or something to stop the rocking back and forth. And feeling utterly and completely alone. Abandoned. Forgotten. Forsaken.
But in Noah’s story the waters begin to recede – dry up somehow? Get soaked into the earth?
“I felt a rush of trust–felt that life might be not just tolerable but beautiful, if I could only remember to find the bare Present. ”
― David James Duncan, River Teeth
God remembers us. God remembers me. At the table, I remember Jesus’ words, “Take, eat, do this remembering me,” and that they are words of another sign of the promise God remembers me, too.
God. Remembers. Me.
“This is my story. This is my song. Blessed Assurance…”