I had a rather baffling thing happen on Sunday. I had planned not to write a post for Conversation with Ourselves, as I loved so very much sharing the remarkable talent of others. But I had the unusual pleasure and jarring moment of seeing myself as I was when younger. A couple walked into a Starbucks who looked exactly like my girlfriend and I did when we were seniors in high school. Yes, I have made several assumptions, several presumptions, several projections onto the other based upon what I heard, here, but I record, below, the experience as truthfully, in fact and presumptive figure, as I can.
I meet my past self on Sunday.
Sitting in the Starbucks a few blocks from my former high school mid-Sunday morning, typing an article, texting my best friend. I've gone to a spoken, simple Eucharist service down the street, have ordered a large mug of coffee, have worked through a few pages of a book about the sacramental theology of food and cooking, when I chance a glance over my shoulder hearing the door swing wide and I see them coming in.
The girl knows how to wear a dress.
Of course, Kate knew how to wear a dress too. It was one of the first things I had noticed about her and would notice about her repeatedly for the year and a half, in particular the navy one she wore three months in when we spent the evening on the grass and she floated like a fay, dragging a hand across my arm and dangling her feet above the floor lights, stars of earth.
She's accompanied by the boy with a Bible in his hand, a certainty about his shoulders. She likes to follow him, though he leads, best he can, from behind her. She looks back, often, to see if he's still smiling. They lead each other this way, though they don't know to call it that.
He tells her something about church that morning. It's a thought he began outside, in the car, when they were leaving, first spoken at the door from the youth building but first conceived in his mind the night before. He wanted to still tell her and he found a way, with a bit of force, to fit it into the conversation this morning.
She knows, but she still smiles. It's her knowing smile, which he won't learn until another six months have passed.
They order what seems to them simple when they are still young enough to consider it: carmel macchiato for her, a black coffee for him.
He'd prefer to put some cream in it, just once, but it would ruin the look.
He's so worried about the look.
(He's still worried about the look. Somewhat.)
I hear them at the table behind me as I type. They have skipped big church, which is what they will call worship apart from youth group for another year or two and he will still, even then, only stop calling it big church once he attends the Episcopal service and begins to categorize things into liturgy and Rites.
(He shall become extremely annoying in this for a few years.)
The boy speaks of half-known things. He has certain opinions about the Holy Spirt, whom he shall not call Holy Ghost for a few more years. He has some formed thoughts about church leadership, which he believes he is not called to. He has some strong opinions about morality, about drinking, about the Catholic church which he has no real understanding of whatsoever, about whether or not they should still eat at Chick-fil-A.
He still feels the need to express an opinion on the sole merit that he has one.
(He shall delete a many near-published post before he knows better, including one for today about Chick-fil-A.)
She interjects once or twice, like Kate did. She keeps point with his words and plays him well and often. She trips him, once or twice, and they smile at each other when it happens. She keeps him with the people; she sees he has a fondness for wandering off alone and then hating the abandonment at the hand of his own choice.
My phone vibrates once, twice, a handful of texts from my best friend, an email.
So much shall happen: a new church, buying TOMS, a new best friend, then another, another, and once more.
I need to go by the grocery, pick up ingredients for the four dozen cinnamon rolls I am to bake for a ministry the following evening. I load my backpack, check my phone, and between smiling over the text and ignoring the unread count of my inbox, I catch that the time is about five minutes before the worship service, big church, is about to begin.
I shoot up a prayer, vaulted high toward that Throne, about the fullness of time, about grace, about my own damnable superiority, about the myriad peoples in their own ways meeting Christ that morning.
I've shouldered the bag when he sees me. We catch sight of one another, he and I, and a word passes between us in the silence of that moment.
At least, I romanticize it that way. I take Edith Wharton and try to make her ordinary experience.
What really happened was I shouldered my bag, caught his eye by mistake, and looked away before it was too awkward for the both of us.
Maybe he saw it too. Maybe he saw, as I had, the once was and the soon to be meeting in a strange place of folded time.
I left the Starbucks without another word, except a whispered Amen as I crossed the threshold into the street, concluding a prayer I hadn't known I had been praying.
I was wise enough not to cross myself. Oddly, it shall be this action that he finds the most upsetting and yet shall be one of the first things he heartedly embraces.
But that's a matter of time and the One who keeps it.
I think we need to have this sort of relationship with our past self, for some of us our past selves.
We need a working acquaintanceship.
Without it, these others come to us unexpected and sudden. Instead of grace and a half-smile, we are left with a sense of shame, mortification, and guilt. No matter how many times we assure ourselves that we are getting there, it means little unless we are able to behold the past and not hate ourselves for who we were and who we are now because of it.
... for while we were yet sinners ...
“So the saint once believed. And I believe the saint.”
Edward Hirsch and I, perhaps you, too. We believe the saint.