When I grow up, I’ll probably settle down. I’ll probably find a place, a location where I really want to live, and an apartment or house that I can afford. I’m sure I’ll have bills, more than I do now, and what everyone tells me are things called “responsibilities”. Maybe I’ll get a real job, a category many of my clients seem to believe doesn’t include sea kayaking. I’ll start earning real amounts of money. Maybe I’ll sit at a desk, sigh frequently and sometimes smile, passing minutes reflecting upon the carefree days of my youth.
When I grow up, I’ll probably laugh about some of the stupid things I’ve done. I’ll smile when I think of skiing behind my Jeep in a blizzard, pushing the car in neutral down a mountain road or playing with fire in remote campsites and kayaking through thunderstorms. I’m sure I’ll have aching knees, a terrible back and certainly poor hearing from always listening to music too loud. I’ll admit that I was, more often than not, a complete idiot and it’s only by the grace of God I even made it to old age.
Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll get married. Maybe to a girl that I’ve dated for a while, one who is eons out of my league. I’ll wonder what she sees in me, tell her she’s beautiful and just about pee myself when I ask her parents if I can steal his Cinderella. When we’re married, I’m sure there will be good days, plenty of laughs and the best of adventures. But there will also be the low points, the lost jobs, tragedies and nasty fights when I forget our anniversary…again.
Maybe I’ll have a son who looks somewhat like me. Worse yet, I’ll bet he inherits many of my traits. When he’s young, I’m sure he’ll twirl his hair, want to be a football star and talk endlessly when he finally learns how. At some point he’ll start asking questions like: “why is the sky blue?”, “what is eternity like?” and of course, “where do babies come from?” He’ll start high school with braces, be somewhat awkward, but gradually gain confidence in the young man he becomes. He’ll probably turn into a know-it-all, want to move away from wherever we live, and perhaps not talk to me when I forbid him from staying out too late with his girlfriend.
I will grow old, talk about the weather, local politics and maybe become content enough to call someplace home. I’ll say things like “back in the day” and “when I was your age”. And all the moments that I so easily take for granted now will amass into what I will call “my life”.
But wherever I am, whoever I become, whatever family, titles or mishaps become attached with my name, I hope I never forget that, at the core of my being, I am somewhat eager but confused, cold-footed but homesick, lovely but terrible, and when all these aspects combine, I find myself staring at the night sky.
I took an astronomy class my junior year of college. It was a general education requirement, but I decided there were practical benefits to being able to identify everything I saw in the night sky. Certainly not the least of these was the romantic potential. What do girls find more starry-eyed than a guy who can name all the stars in the sky? The answer to this is anyone and everyone, if that guy nearly failed astronomy and doesn’t know the Big Dipper from a hole in the ground. It was one of the hardest classes of my life. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I sat in a room with tiny windows, my head spinning, trying to remember the details of how a star implodes, or the physics behind black holes, while all the girls texted their actual boyfriends under the desk. Fortunately, I escaped it with my GPA intact. The same goes for my celibacy. Apart from this, I did acquire one thing: a concrete awareness that the universe is vast beyond all measure.
Wherever I happen to be living, there are certain locations I deem my “sanity spots”: benches in a field, boardwalks through a marsh, top flights of stadiums, mountain summit parking lots. When I find myself overwhelmed with the apparent inadequacy or even stress of my own being, I find that I need to retreat. These are the places I go when I become that person. It’s like I’m on autopilot. The next thing I know, there I am, car parked many times sitting on the hood or perhaps standing next to it.
That’s where I found myself just the other night: standing on an overlook, the wind off the ocean ripping past me, surrounded by more stars than I could count. My day had gone something along the lines of:
“Hey Bryn, your first tour this morning is going to be a private group from an east-coast-school-with-European-sounding-accents-on-the vowels. They want the royal treatment….”
“Hey bud, rent is due in a week. Don’t forget.”
“Hi, this is your bank calling. We see that your car payment is a little late. We’re going to have to penalize you with a 100% interest. Thank you for choosing us!”
“Did you know your shirt is on backwards?”
“…and by the way, there’s a strong wind out there, expect to tow someone….”
“Dear Bryn Clark, Your diploma is on hold and cannot be sent to you until you settle your score with Student Accounts. Also, Alumni Relations wonders if you’re interested in making a donation…”
“So have you decided if you’re going to grad school yet?”
“In other news today, doomsayers are raising concerns about 2012. Will the world end in a few months?”
“….and I think they speak French…do you know any?”
So I sat on top of a mountain and stared up at the stars. Although I’m certainly not old, I am no longer a child, and this is something I’m reminded of with every swipe of my credit card, turn of my engine key, or phone call from my parents. I realize that the phrase “when I grow up” is quickly becoming less and less relevant, and that someday I would have to admit that I had grown up and this is my life. It’s these moments that shape our identity, when we finally accept who we are in our entirety. And they can be overwhelming.
But then I just had to look at the stars. I considered that each one was a sun in its own solar system, and that the mountain upon which I was sitting isn’t but a grain of sand in the scheme of things. I felt extremely small and in that I found comfort.
I may be weak, confused and somewhat overwhelmed, but this world is beautiful, grand and yes, at times, desolate. If I am small, then my problems are smaller still and their solutions will arrive easily enough. If billions of stars, larger than our very own sun, can somehow remain suspended in the vast universe to which I belong, then I’m pretty sure unpaid bills, homesick hearts and even life plans will somehow work out.
I need the mountain overlooks, the ocean and the stars. I need to be reminded of how insignificant I am, because it puts me in my place. It whispers the reminder that the Maker of those stars also made me and that He demands nothing more of me than the humility of knowing my place, and the love and ambition to follow Him within it. If He can suspend the stars in the night sky, then I’m fairly certain He can suspend my days in this world.
When I grow up, I hope I don’t forget to look up.