Today, I bring you another installment of Conversations with Ourselves, a series of posts in which every Thursday the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa (or sometimes totally not this, but something equally cool) concerning matters of Faith, specifically.
Addie is, hands down, one of the best people writing on the Internet right now. Her words are lucid and gentle, her prose bright and honest. Addie is able to lay a hand to the problems in the Church while holding her up at the same time. She is kind and good, attributes that are not so easily found in a community where so much hurt and disillusionment has been wrought. Her way is rooted firmly in grace, which is evidenced well here.
During her sixteenth summer, Lake Michigan is her version of freedom.
She imagines that after she’s finished with this Driver’s Ed business – those long mornings of cautionary videos – she’ll drive here whenever she wants. Lake Cook Road is a straight shot to Chicago’s suburban Glencoe beach, and she imagines going with That One Boy in the early mornings to read their Bibles together and pray. She imagines sweet kisses as the sun rises.
For now, she just comes for youth group Beach Night. She sits under the wooden canopy at the back with a few others while the rest of the group plays Ultimate Frisbee, sand flinging out from under their feet. She talks and laughs but keeps glancing out at the lake. She has the heavy, tired look of a girl who has been waiting a long time for a boy to come for her.
When she sees me out at the edge of the dock, surprise flickers across her face, but only for a moment. At fifteen-almost-sixteen, she has not yet smacked into the concrete hardness of the impossible. She still believes in magic.
It takes her a few minutes to get the courage, but then she comes over. She does that spazzy walk-run thing that she does when she’s nervous and self-conscious and determined. She is small, white-blonde. This was the year a cute boy at school compared her figure to a pencil.
There are no introductions. She just sits, a little breathless, next to me. She just says it straight out. She knows that when a wormhole opens in the universe, and suddenly, your Future Self is sitting there with her starting-to-get-veiny feet in the same sand, you have to ask exactly what you want to know.
“Does it turn out like we imagined?” she asks.
She is wearing a baggy sweatshirt and a necklace that I remember making out of tiny, gold safety pins. This is the year we spent our Saturday nights at that punk-rock youth church and thought about cutting our hair short, bleaching it white.
I don’t have the heart to tell her that we never pull off the punk look. Or that Hipster is coming, and we never pull that off either.
I laugh. “It hasn’t turned out yet.”
At 29, I feel squarely in the middle of a new kind of beginning. The babies that she cannot yet imagine are turning into their own small people. I’ve accomplished much and am on the brink of so much more. I recently landed with both feet on the other side of a Darkness I will not tell her about, except to say that it took us from those sweet vanilla lattes she loves to straight, black coffee.
“But, you know…” she whispers into the dusk. “Is it like we thought it would be?”
The life she imagines for herself is big and wild and halfway across the world. It includes cobblestones and scarves and late night Bible studies. To her on fire for God looks like an asteroid careening wildly across the sky, not the small, uncertain flickering of candle flame.
In her mind, she has already met the man she will marry. I can see her scrolling through the faces in her head, settling on a favorite.
She doesn’t understand yet that high school, even this precious youth group, is a fragile globe. That even now it is dropping, and all these people will break away into their own faraway futures.
“Not like we thought,” I say. “Not really.”
She catches her breath, doesn’t look at me. The silence feels as thick as the night falling.
“You’re going to love it,” I say finally. “You are made for it, this life we end up living.”
“An old, abandoned castle in England that we buy super-cheap and fix up for a Teen Missions headquarters?” she ventures. (She has recently finished the latest Christy Miller Christian romance novel and has all kind of new romance-novel-inspired dreams.)
“Exactly,” I say. “But with less castles.”
She sighs and looks at the lake, darkening before her. I look too. It is deep and wide and a little bit wild.
A few summers from now, she will make a habit of driving here early in the morning to watch the sunrise from the lifeguard stand and swim out to the sun.
A decade-and-a-half later, I’ll still be swimming, plunging into the northern cold of Lake Superior, exactly one state and one entire world away from this moment.
We’ll take broad, amateur strokes. We’ll notice it around us: the quiet of the water, the beauty of the mysterious.
During our sixteenth…our twenty-ninth…summer, this is it. This is our version of freedom.