“Man, I miss the world,” I said to my wife as we walked down to the water. It was a very strange sentence, one that wouldn’t have made much sense to anyone before mid-March, 2020.
Back in March, I remember writing a blog sharing my own thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic. “Okay, I’ll chip in,” I thought, figuring they would be the only thoughts I’d have to share. My expectation, along with many others, was that the world was on a brief pause, only to resume and get back to normal before long.
Now it’s August, and I still haven’t dined inside a restaurant since March.
I miss it. I miss dining in restaurants, hugging friends, not wearing a mask, anticipating a joyful church service without the shroud of widely varying opinions on re-opening.
But it’s not the first thing I’ve missed.
Man, I miss college.
The memory came up on my Facebook page today. August was the beginning of the school year, which meant classes weren’t intense yet and shenanigans were. Apparently on August 24th, 2016, a couple of my clown hallmates went to the school’s involvement fair and signed up my e-mail for every organization they could – including service dog training, the dance organization and cheerleading tryouts.
But my memories from August since graduating higher education are a bit different. Now, I associate August with the utter bewilderment of beginning my ministry as pastor, the utter bewilderment of continuing my ministry in a pandemic, and the utter bewilderment of ground wasps. Ground wasps are a thing? They’re back? Why do they like my garage? How do you kill ground wasps? Man, life sure has gotten more complicated than when I just had to respond to a bunch of disgruntled fellow students and explain I really wasn’t interested in cheerleading.
I used to flip through those memories on Facebook late into the night. I’d look through pictures of the ridiculous outfits, late evenings, goofy happenings and misadventures that took place over those four years. And where did I look at them?
Man, I miss seminary.
Earlier this week, I sat at what I’ve taken to referring as my “outdoor office,” a picnic table in my backyard which gets me out of the confines of a church building by myself. My stubborn laptop was taking forever to start up. It reminded me of a friend’s laptop in seminary, which he’d bring into the Great Hall to do homework. Ah, the Great Hall – and then memories came flooding back.
Wearing goofy outfits and loud slippers and studying late into the night –
Tossing books aside and going for spontaneous frozen yogurt runs –
Hosting surprise parties or being the victim of surprise parties including kidnappings –
It made my outdoor office that I had been so excited about seem rather pathetic.
Man, I miss seminary. Since I’ve moved away from seminary, perhaps half a dozen friends have visited me from the school – and I’ve stayed in touch with another handful of them. After all, the friendships I made in seminary wound up far outlasting my college friendships. I built some of my favorite memories. I became far more established in my identity. I holed up alone in a Starbucks flipping through old Facebook memories from college. I –
Wait. What was that last part?
Yes, it happened. If I’m honest with myself in the midst of my daydreams of chicken suits and froyo runs, seminary was also significantly shaped by a deep grief and missing of my past life as a college student. Beautiful life long friendships formed around me and a new life rhythm took root and lifelong passions were shaped, but I would leave campus and huddle in corners, staring right through them all to memories of involvement fair sign-ups on the cheerleading team.
Suddenly another vision comes to mind, ten or twenty years from now. Wistfully looking back on New York Augusts, wishing for the Corinth of old, full of memories of mountains and fine people and funny stories and a great session and incredible congregation members and a hilarious, hapless, holy first year full of mistakes and misadventures and joyful encounters of Jesus.
If I’m honest (which I should be, I’m a pastor), New York Augusts aren’t just about ground wasps and bewildering incompetence. They’re also about hiking high peaks, enjoying gorgeous weather, having a slower schedule, being married (which is awesome), having bonfires – bonfires! I couldn’t have bonfires at seminary! If I’m honest – there are some really wonderful things about New York Augusts, even if they lack fake cheerleading signups.
I wonder why that happens – why either the past or the future sometimes seem so much sweeter than the present. Maybe it’s because the challenges are so much more acute when you’re in the middle of them. Like being on a run or a hike and thinking, “why did I ever do this, this is miserable, I hate it,” and then three days later you’re like, “You know what would be fun? A run!” Our memories change over time. No place is perfect. Challenges are more acute when they’re actually happening, and memories become more pristine as time passes.
Or, maybe it’s because we naturally long for some better future dream. In college, I longed for a healthier life rhythm…in seminary, I longed to live in one place instead of two…in both, I longed to be married, and longed to be in pastoral ministry…in some ways, if you’d told my college or seminary self about my New York pastor self, I wonder if I’d have thought, “I’ll be so happy – I’ll have it all!”
College and seminary were incredible experiences for me, to be sure, and there are things I miss that simply can never be replaced – pristine friendships, ridiculous memories, whirlwinds of activity, and ridiculous amounts of fun. But what I sometimes look at as my golden years of college were also defined by relational immaturity, enough breakups to write my own Taylor Swift album, and unhealthy work/life rhythms. When I think of memories studying in the seminary great hall, I also have to remember that I studied in the great hall to escape my studies, hoping someone would show up and drag me to get ice cream; the amount of reading and writing that was required meant living much of my life in solitude, hence choosing to study with people. Maybe it’s not that my previous life was any better. Maybe it’s more that we have tendencies to gloss over the negative memories and polish the positive ones, thinking the grass is greener in the past or the future.
Maybe the problem’s not with the place, or the time, but the perspective. Maybe even in the midst of this awful, wacky, unpredictable pandemic time, there are things to cherish and enjoy that one day I’ll look back on wistfully.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, hey this pandemic thing isn’t really too bad, we should just focus on the bright side and lighten up. No, this thing is actually terrible. There are already long-lasting emotional effects for people, we can’t see our families, people have lost lives, jobs, and security – life is not better this way.
But, I also have to wonder if there will be times I’ll look back at this season with my wife and think, “You know, there were some sweet things about that pandemic season. Board games indoors – long walks and playing in the lake – a reduced social schedule.” Is it possible, one day I’ll say, “There are some things I miss”?
I hear it a lot. You probably hear it a lot. We all hear it a lot – the appeal to the good old days. Whether the good old days were seminary, college, the 1980s or the 1950s – we long for our times of the past. Or, we long for our times of the future – when things are back to normal, when kids grow up, when we achieve our life goals…
It makes me wonder what it would look like to, instead of longing for the past or living for the future, I began to be present by enjoying and cherishing what I could in the weird, wacky, day-by-day pandemic life that God has gifted me with. So that one day I’ll look back and think,
“Man, I miss 2020.” Weird and wacky as it was.
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