I was dashing around the apartment just the other morning looking for a textbook. I’d been reading it the night before yet it was somehow eluding me. Searching near a stack of books by the window, something outside caught my eye and I was compelled to take pause.
Behind our apartment is a small yard followed by a tree line. In the middle of the open space was a single brown leaf, one that had somehow escaped the clutches of winter. It sat atop the frozen tundra and as I observed it from the window it skated and danced across the yard, lifting and swaying with the slightest movement of the breeze. It reminded me of something, something I couldn’t articulate but wanted to embrace. And I could’ve watched that leaf for years. But I had to rush off to class.
Later I recalled a back road near my childhood home in Ohio. It branched off of an old state highway cutting between two large cornfields, past several abandoned farmsteads, then bridging a small river before cresting a ridge. Although it was just a small hill this was western Ohio and standing on a cardboard box in one’s driveway would qualify for elevation. Hence, from that point in the road, with the car cresting the top of the incline, I could see down and across a vast meadow, one which I imagine must’ve been quiet grand and remote in ages past but even now was majestic in its own subtle way.
I grew up with a keen sense of wanderlust and from the earliest years of my adolescence I was eager to escape the Midwest. This was one spot, however, I never wanted to escape. From the top of that hill, looking out across the meadow, I felt as though I could see the entirety of the world that I needed, the world that I could come understand and know. It was contained and manageable; even to my wandering heart.
Around this same time I remember being terrified of eternity. How long is it? I would ask.
It is forever.
It does not end.
So I would panic. I’d walk about the room clenching and opening my hands, trying to find some part of forever that wasn’t too magnificent and incomprehensible for me to grasp.
I admit that if I had a thousand lives, I’d spend a handful of them on that road in Ohio, right at the top of the hill, pulled over to the side, watching, breathing, living.
As I child I couldn’t wait to grow up so I wouldn’t be stuck in the limbo of waiting, waiting for Christmas, a drivers license, a girlfriend and college acceptance letters. Now my life is one of doing, jumping through the various hoops I call “responsibilities” but are really just excuses I use to avoid the reality that I haven’t changed that much and I’m still waiting. What I once labeled “bored” I now call “busy”. I’m busy building a virtual world on sand, hoping that the real world shows up. All the while it has. It’s skating by as a leaf upon the frozen snow outside my window. I’ll observe it some other time.
We shall not cease in our explorations, T.S. Eliot penned, until we arrive at the place we began and know it for the first time. Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said. And the more I think about it, I don’t believe he was talking about those who end wars. For the Psalmist praises the Lord alone for his ability to break the bow and shatter the spear. And Jesus knew the Psalms.
Rather, the peacemakers are the ones who embrace the peace around them. They make time for shalom, the peace of being still and listening to the voice that says “stop being busy for one moment. Look at this place, look at this world I’ve made. Look at it and know that I am God”.
But who can ever know a place? Who could ever have the time?
I reserve hope for an eternity that does not frighten but enlivens me. I reserve hope for a future when I will arrive on a quiet back road in western Ohio right at the crest of a small hill. From there I will look out and see a meadow that’s more spectacular than all my nostalgia combined. I’ll pull my car to the side of the world and I’ll sit.
I’ll sit for years, maybe decades. I’ll sit and watch as the seasons change, as winter arrives, the snow falls and a leaf dances across her surface like King David before the ark. I won’t be bored and I won’t be busy; I’ll have arrived.
And having arrived, I will begin to know my place for the first time.