Paul talked of end times. I talk of the end of good times.
Well, not quite. At the age of 28, I look at former years and the glories which held them aloft: subtle responsibility, fewer dimensions to relationships, open doors to idealism and the optimist’s creed, love which came at the shadow of a kiss, the simple joy of gathering with family or friends at mealtime. I remember them happily: Lake Woebegone days. At 28, I concern myself with balancing accounts, wondering where the money went and where it will go, who I might have hurt and who I might be hurting, whether or not I’m marked for one of life’s catastrophes (it’s about my time), and if the time I dedicate to my passion and call is enough to satisfy my Maker.
At 28, mind you. Friends, colleagues, old professors echo how young I still am, how much life I have yet to live. They urge me to trash the anxiety that comes with everyday-ness. “What good does it do, when you could be doing so much good? What reason do you have not to be happy?”
What reason indeed! Friends, family still surround me. I love as ably as ever I did, if with a different perspective these days. I pursue what I love and love (most days) what I pursue. So why do I feel there is something lacking?
Younger friends of mine have been spending recent days abroad in Europe. The connection is bittersweet—joy for them in a new and life-changing experience, sadness at remembering the close of those chapters in my younger life. I belong in Europe, I tell myself. It’s really my home—so why do you get to go there, friends, and not I? Perhaps it is your turn.
They talk of visiting museums and castles, of tricks and trysts, of parties ablaze with all kinds of bacchanalia. The new adventures, the new relationships of every sort are enough to sustain them. Sometimes, they’re even overwhelming. I wish I had so much new to process, so much to sink into my skin. Why, by contrast, do I feel stale?
I’ve told you once, more than once, how difficult it is for me to simply relax and enjoy myself. I’m unsatisfied these days—I’m not doing what fits my call and my passion. And even if I don’t know how to go about it, there must be something I can do to figure that out. Right?
But I’m not sure what. I visit churches, synagogues, temples, I plan out journals and periodicals, I envision growing participants in Taizé—but it doesn’t feel as though it’s enough. So, then, what should I be doing? What will make me satisfied? Or is it about my satisfaction at all?
You call me up periodically; we sit down for coffee or a cocktail. You ask what’s new. Day-to-day, I have nothing to tell you. “Church,” I say, but that’s not really new. So I drum up minor things and make them sound important: “I’m starting a quasi-academic journal,” I tell you. “Ambitious,” you distractedly respond.
“I’m visiting another church tomorrow.”
“I’m going to try some meditation at the Buddhist Center.”
“We’re taking Taizé to Urban Servant Corps.”
Maybe. I haven’t really told anyone about it yet. I don’t have permission, and I haven’t planned anything. But I’m thinking about it. And that’s my big news.
You just got back from Paris … and Amsterdam … and Brussels … and Taizé itself. You have stories to tell, wide-eyed, with exhortations to rifle through photo albums on Facebook. “You have to see it!” you say. I do, I do indeed. Blurred shots of frantic gesticulations and wobbly smiles, all to the orchestration of pints of good beer. And with friends, good friends. It makes me half-smile.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing poems. Do you want to hear? Oh, alright, another time.
I reassure myself sometimes with (fabricated) parallel stories of history’s geniuses: What would Van Gogh be doing on a rainy Thursday night in May? Certainly not much more than I, I tell myself. I doubt he’d be enjoying a novel of riveting historical fiction while sipping 21-year-old Scotch. That gives me hope. Perhaps I’m destined for greater things. Keeping both ears intact.
Thumbing through the volumes on my bookshelf, I pull out Walt Whitman’s Songs of Myself. That egotistical bastard, I think. Who does he think he is, with enough import to write so floridly about his own boring existence?
Then it occurs to me: Maybe I’m just as qualified to sings songs of myself. “Jeff was a good-hearted, misunderstood soul,” I murmur in my head. It’s a painfully boring beginning. And really, I would rather someone else finds me worthwhile enough to eulogize. To be valued, to be integral to something bigger than myself. What is the gap I would leave behind if suddenly I disappeared? Part of me wants to evaporate, if only so that people would stop taking me for granted.
I slide his one leaf of grass back into its hiding place behind the King James Bible. I have half a dozen tea lights lit around me—the only light left in my tiny apartment. On my stereo, the hushed hymns of Taizé chant in the background. I think back to Europe again, to my dreams and ambitions, to my staleness. Where do I belong if not here? What am I doing here?
And what, dare I say it, is this striving for greatness all about, if not, at least a little bit, my lingering lack of self-esteem? And the call to something great. I hope it’s a bit of both.
So, you have been to Paris-Tokyo-London-Madrid? I wrote a poem today. Would you like to hear it? Another time? Surely. I’m sure you’ll want to hear it another time.