Toast

This past weekend, I road tripped with a group of my best college friends to the north woods of Wisconsin for a wedding. We rented a three-room condo at the resort where there reception would be held. The condo was meant to house eight people and there were nearly twenty of us.

We went paintballing for the bachelor’s party, in which the goal of the groom’s closest friends was to shoot him in the crotch. He was on my team, so I have nothing to do with the actual attempts, although I may have been the purposefully negligent teammate that didn’t lay down covering fire when he got up to move. I told him my goggles had fogged.

To further celebrate the occasion of his wedding, there were fireworks shot from the dock outside our condo. This was one of those situations in which we all assumed someone else had asked for permission. This thought crossed my mind about the same time as a large firework slipped from its aimed position right before shooting a rocket of yellow across the water to a neighbors dock as everyone dove for cover. This would include, as it turns out, the resort manager and his wife, who were on the way to inform us that we most certainly did not have permission to be shooting them. Neither were entirely amused at the potential comicality of the scene.

The wedding itself was simple and beautiful. On a cloudy and cold May afternoon, I watched one of my closest friends for the past couple years say, “I do”, and then joined everyone else as we cheered loudly when it was deemed appropriate. Then we up and moved onto the reception, which featured an open bar and quite possibly the most delicious steak I’ve had since…well…ever. It was to die for, especially from the cow’s perspective. Even if it wasn’t, I was never short of entertainment from trying to play matchmaker for some of my close friends:

“So, how many kids would you like to have?” I’d ask the targeted prospect, at some obtusely unrelated point in the conversation.

“Um…I dunno? Four?”

“Well, that’s interesting. Do you know who else wants four kids?”

They’d give me an oddly suspicious look. But that didn’t stop me.

“And I bet you’d want to live in the southwest, too? You know who else wants to live in the southwest??”

And so on and so forth. Fun fact: A life goal of mine is to be able to stand up at a wedding someday and give a toast proudly declaring “for those of you who don’t know, I’m the reason these two met.” And that’s exactly what interrupted my schemes towards momentary wedding fame: the toasts.

First, of course, was the best man. Then went the maid of honor and so on and so forth. Eventually tradition gave way to an open microphone. One by one, people significant in the lives of the bride and groom stood up and shared words that dictated us all to take another swig of champagne.

I didn’t make a toast.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, I had nothing to do with the bride and groom meeting (but I will someday, trust me). Secondly, everyone knows there’s nothing worse than the awkward, “who-invited-him?” guy that stands up at a wedding and rambles on about some inside joke the groom has long since forgotten. I had no desire to be that guy. Lastly, upon drinking my scotch a little too fast, I had reached the euphoric state of beaming from ear to ear and telling everyone how “I’m so so so so happy right now. No, I didn’t drink your champagne. I’m just happy.” While it may have been amusing for me to stand behind the microphone slurring through my affections for the bride and groom, I don’t think it would have been beneficial to my already semi-buffoonish reputation.

So I didn’t. I sat in my seat, listened to the other toasts, tasted anyone’s drink that would allow me (or didn’t notice) and beamed like an idiot while constantly reminding everyone who would listen that I was the happiest beaming idiot in the world.

But later that night, I found myself on a dock overlooking the lake by our resort. Everyone else had long since gone to sleep, and for the first time in five days I had a moment alone. And it was a good moment. It was cold outside, but a clear night. I had a blanket around my shoulders, the moon was out, and there was a serene silence across the water that gave me a feeling as though I was the only one awake.

I thought about what it meant to attend a wedding. For the last two weeks, my life has been in a period of ending. I finished school, moved away, said goodbye to friends, and, in a couple days, I will be saying goodbye to the place I have called home for twenty-one years. In my mind, I had viewed the wedding weekend as an ending. It was one last hurrah for a group of best friends.

But the wedding was a beginning. I heard two people promise to “love and to cherish” until “death do us part.” Originally, I’d heard this statement as though it implied an ending, just like everything else in life. But sitting on the dock, I thought of how marriage is in no way indicative of endings. Marriage is not eternal, but it is a testimony to the end of endings. It’s a reflection of Christ’s love for His church. The promise of love to another is a testimony to the eternality of Christ’s love that has power over every ending there is in our lives.

So here’s a toast to endings that have to happen: to college, to road trips, condos, fireworks, paintballing, and beaming friends who are saying goodbye. But with it also is a toast to beginnings that bear the promise of a future with no endings.

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Education

Five days ago I graduated from college. Shortly after the ceremony, I went to a barbeque with many recent graduates and there ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. She’s still in college and had spent the past semester studying abroad. It was our first conversation since her return. We began talking, moved past the usual greetings (“Oh my gosh! You’re graduated!” “Oh my gosh! You’re home from Africa!”) and started discussing what our life had consisted of for the past few months.

“Honestly,” she said, “after this semester, I just have a lot of questions.”

Later, we sat on the couch of my apartment and discussed the questions that’d been running through her head. As we did so, I felt a vague sense of familiarity sweep through me. Her questions sounded a lot like mine, and I was reminded that I still didn’t have the answers.

There are countless things I do not know, and never will proclaim to know. Nonetheless, I have a college degree, in English. While this may give me some validity, I want to share three dirty little secrets:

1) I constantly misspell words like definitely, restaurant, and Cincinnati (which, by the way, is where I grew up). There are laboratory chimpanzees that have proved to be better spellers than myself.

2) Despite being somewhat “well-read” I haven’t finished any Dostoyevsky and I spark noted my way through Paradise Lost…twice.

3) Lastly, some of my worst test grades ever came within my major, including this last semester when I received a 13/35 in my 17th century literature course. I don’t know math either, but I’m pretty sure that equates to about a 37%.

The point in all this is that the sum of my knowledge is dismal. I have to accept this. I have to accept that I am small, the world is large, and God is the epitome of knowledge around whom my meager existence rotates in a garbled assortment of questions. My professor of Christian Thought used to remind us: “You can know God, but you can never comprehend God.” And this is crucial. The reality of my questions, for me, brings to mind the reality of God’s existence. If my questions resulted in answers, then I could attain to the finitude of knowledge. But they don’t. Every question I have somehow leads to more questions. These questions have to have answers and if there are answers, then there must be a source of the answers. As long as I have questions, I will always believe in God.

When I graduated high school four years ago, I was pretty sure I had things figured out. Four years of higher education later, I found myself sitting at lunch today with my high school principal.

“Here’s the thing,” I told him, “I think that after years of college all I’ve learned is that I don’t know anything.”

He smiled, at me and laughed a little. “Good,” he said, “That tells me you’ve had an excellent education.”

The purpose of an education should never be to attain knowledge. The purpose of an education should be humility. Back in the 1600’s, John Milton (author of Paradise Lost the spark notes for which I highly recommend), set down what he viewed to be the premise of education. “The end…of learning,” he stated, “is to know God aright”. Knowing God aright demands humility; the questions prompted by my education ought to produce this humility. While I will never claim to have reached the epitome of humility (how’s that for an oxymoron?), the past four years have instilled a least a sense of it within me. But there’s plenty more to come, I’m sure.

So… how about graduate school…anyone?

Graduation

I told myself I wanted to avoid using quotes in this blog, but today reality struck. Even after four years of studiously reading and developing my ability to write the English language, I must admit that I simply cannot find the words for certain occasions. The blur of today’s events is such an instance. Ergo, my thoughts in the words of some who have gone before me:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

-Prayer of St. Francis

“Your the best … just wish I could have done more for you, wish we had more time. Anyway, may the wind always be at your back, and the sun always upon your face, and may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars.”

-George Jung; Blow

“I can scarcely bid you good bye, even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow.”

-John Keats; Final Letter