*Author’s Note: For maximum poignancy, please listen to The Oh Hello’s The Truth is a Cave repeatedly whilst reading. You’ll thank me later.
A few mornings ago, as I stood staring groggily into the poorly complected face stubbornly greeting me each day, I saw it lying there.
Trapped just underneath the hood of my sink drain it taunted me, blindingly reflecting the harsh light of the morning as only a being devoid of sacredness, vitality, pigmentation, and youth can do.
Yep, it was gray hair.
Now, I’m not entirely sure why this particular gray hair (one of roughly 300 currently making camp on scalp) was quite so effective in wrecking my emotional stability for the remainder of what ended up being an average Tuesday. In all honesty, I’ve owned an ear-and-nose trimmer for at least three years now, and there are few things more existentially debilitating than coming to grips with the fact that your ear hair now requires the more practiced hands of a specialist.
“Why are there so many wadded up tissues and hard candies in the pocket of my robe? Wait, when did I buy a robe? WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME!? However, this thing is incredibly soft.”
Perhaps, my angst was rooted in a recent invitation to join the CHS Class of 2003 Reunion Facebook group. Where, thanks to privacy settings I don’t know how to alter, I’m continually reminded-with each e-mail update from someone who’s name I don’t recognize proclaiming their intentions (with three exclamation points no less) to “get ma party on”-of the inescapable truth that I never became the youngest person to accomplish anything of worth.*
(*NOTE: You should always read “anything of worth” as either “Professional Football Playing Astronaut President,” or “Real World Cast Member.”)
It’s quite humbling to realize, via the enormously successful global vehicle for updates about your mom’s candy crush scores he created, that Mark Zuckerberg is a year older than you.
Or that real writers get paid for their work, and have managed at this juncture in their lives to publish something more substantial than rambling electronic journal entries read by dozens of their biggest relatives.
Or that the social media updates of former classmates involve complaints about the poor timing of driveway pavers at their newly constructed home, or difficulties regulating the iPad usage of their toddlers during dinners out, while I, in the words of memes everywhere:
am over here like, I just ate a turkey sandwich for lunch and got mustard on my shirt! TUESDAYS!”
(If you’re in a rush, the poignant sermonizing begins here:)
In my quickly-increasing life experience, I’ve found a consistently painful truth:
failed job interviews for sales associate positions (master degree in tow) at Bed, Bath, & Beyond,*
and uncertainty about whether or not one is actually living up to all the hype he or she was endlessly fed about being special, significant, and definitely worthy of all those church-league basketball trophies now collecting dust in a Rubbermaid bin-your mom relentlessly attempts to get you to move out of her basement-labelled Eric’s stuff…
are the most important moments of a person’s life.
(*NOTE: this is a horrifically true story for another internet day).
At no other time in our lives as middle-class, college-educated, basement dwelling, and disgustingly well-resourced Americans are we brought face-to-face with the counterintuitive truth that no one (and I do mean no one) is watching us, waiting for us to blossom, or cheering us on from the other side of a television screen.
There are no cameras (other than closed circuit NSA feeds, obviously.)
There is no low hanging boom mic wrecking the shot.
There are no cheesy sit-com laugh tracks.
There’s not even a poignant soundtrack (which will come as quite a shock to those of us leaking Katy Perry out of our earbuds in a crowded coffee-shop for the benefit of everyone within a 3 mile radius to not-so-faintly make out the baseline.)
In the words of Vampire Weekend’s “Obvious Bicycle”:
“You ought to spare your face the razor. Cause no one’s gonna spare the time for you.”
As a priest in the church of American folk religion, I am often invited to give my professional opinion on the whereabouts of the divine will for the lives of countless individuals knocking on my office door, sitting in front of me over coffee, or interrupting me as I pretend not to peruse the tabloid headlines at my local Kroger.
“Man, hold on. Kim did WHAT?!”
Their questions often center around the following:
If I’m, with a cart that size, going to make two separate purchases
the geographic location of one’s life
and which job to accept*
(*NOTE: This is a fictional example. There are no scenarios in which more than one company or combo bed-linen/cutlery/as-seen-on-tv-massage-chair chain desires to gainfully employ you. Sackcloth and ash accordingly)
Culminating in the all important conversational crescendo:
“Eric, I just want to know God’s will for my life.”
To which I inevitably respond:
But about me, I mean.”
As with many of life’s questions, there are usually a great deal of other questions lurking in the shadows just offstage. For instance, when I hear “What’s God’s will for my life” I usually go ahead and fill in the dots with:
“What am I, as a person of considerable means, education, talents, and Twitter followers supposed to do with my life that will provide not only fair compensation, but also satisfy my personal, professional, and psychological needs for approval and deep meaning in life?”
While this isn’t an altogether bad or even unique impulse, I have found that what ends up getting picked up during our endless divine entreaties for direction is the subtle idea that God is a prop, an audience member, in the grand narrative of our existences which, despite vocabulary to the contrary, inevitably remain under our direct supervision.
In short: God (and his ever-elusive will) is that which reinforces what we’ve all quietly believed for the totality of our lives-that us and our occupational, familial, and egoic needs rest at the very center of the universe.
Ridiculous as that sounds when we see it written out.
It’s little wonder then that a catastrophic paralysis often accompanies the end of high school, or college, or graduate school, or post-grad internships, or unemployed wilderness wanderings, or even decidedly poignant indie films with a great soundtrack.
Quite simply, we’ve found the end of the script we’ve been living out for years,
and it’s terrifying.
So, as we come to the close of this rather depressing half-time speech (with the synth-heavy keyboard picking up steam in the background)
I’d like to leave you with a few words for the second half:
1) Jesus was executed,
2) And so were many of his early followers.
3) The first Christian pastor Paul was a felon who made tents for a living after he entered “the ministry”
4) The Bible (in it’s 1,000 or so pages) is content to succinctly sum up the “will of God” as “the redemption of all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.”
5) Yeah, that’s it.
6) Seriously, I looked.
7) Really, there’s nothing in there about interviewing strategies or steady career paths for INFJs.
So to my angst-ridden, late afternoon pajama-panted sisters and brothers, I want to say this as clearly as I can (keeping in mind of course, that I was once mercilessly ridiculed by a Little Caesar’s cashier for wearing sunglasses inside while waiting for a $5 hot-n-ready):
God’s will for your life is to do something (read: anything) redemptive with the day, the part-time (or full-time) coworkers at your crappy job, and the apartment complex you transiently live in and long to move out of. Oh, and if tomorrow manages to crest over the hills in the distance:
rinse + repeat.
Because when we live patiently, honestly, humbly, paying attention to the moments and lives before us today, even if our dreams never materialize, our blogs never go viral, our salaries never get called “salaries,” our degrees remain rolled up in their cardboard cylinders, and our twitter followers max out around 90, I would argue we end up discovering a quite Christian conclusion about the state of our lives:
that it’s only in the sacrificing, execution, and rejection of one’s hopes and fears and dreams and 5-year plans and expectations that we’ll ever manage to find anything meaningful at the bottom of this.
Gray hairs, if we let them, remind us that we only get so many Tuesdays.
May you spend them well.