Stepping back on to a college campus causes me to reminisce. Whether the step back is to spend some time at a university library setting in preparation for work I am engaged or, or whether the step back is to visit our son, my memories of other times and places become very real to me.
Yesterday as I helped Kyle move into his new (and by new, I mean new; Bethel University's newest residence is opening just this fall for sophomores) home, I vicariously glowed in the energy and excitement. There are the requisite parents (many of whom are greyer and older than I, that's always a personal boost) accompanying their son or daughter, carrying boxes, grocery bags and televisions and dorm-sized refrigerators. Then there are the younger siblings of the college-bound, eyes sparkling with the new world of a college campus. And, of course, the students themselves. The first-year students with their anxiety-ridden eyes, pseudo-brave expressions and personal angst wander about, furtively seeking a familiar face, seeking to project a cool, in-control demeanor.
I have been drawn back to my own college days, some twenty years ago (can it really be that long ago?) now. Some things have changed in those years. My son takes for granted the internet and its incredible capacity for connection, study and research. (I see no typewriters being lugged into the rooms any longer). The plethora of parents on the campus is astounding to me (twenty years ago parents summarily dropped their first-year students off after a perfunctory goodbye and the adventure began). But some things have not changed. The quest for self-identity and independence on the part of the college-aged. The continuing drama of letting go of a beloved child for the parents. The opportunities to develop lifelong friendships, the ever-present chance to find someone to do something with. Time comes and goes; some things change, some things remain stable.
Last night I stayed at the City Center Radisson in downtown St. Paul (good priceline.com rate) in anticipation of a church-related meeting I have later this morning. I checked in fairly late (9:30) and got a few things accomplished before readying myself for bed. Before slipping into the king-size bed I opened the eleventh-floor drapes to see what I could see in downtown St. Paul. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the east, where just a block away stands the building where I had one of my first jobs after college graduation. The year was 1987 and I was seeking a job to supplement my meager income as an interning pastor in a small, first-ring suburb church in the Twin Cities. I landed a full-time job at the Higher Education Assistance Foundation doing clerical work at the grand annual salary of $14,700. In retrospect, even then that was a meager salary, but at the time it seemed like quite a lot. I hated the job, disliked my supervisor (who disliked me even more) and endured a year of painful existence for the sake of a paycheck.
In those days, wandering through the skyway system of the downtown area at lunch time, I remember wondering what I might be doing in ten years, in twenty years, in thirty years. Those were moments of angst and disillusionment. I had always assumed a college degree would help me find meaningful, gainful employment. I felt a disappointment to my alma mater, my family (from whom I was the first on either side of the family to achieve a bachelor's degree) and to God. My existence was simply that, existence. Because I chose to return to Minnesota, my college friends were not close by. I was alone in a strange city, in a new environment and functionally independent for the first time in my life. It was painful.
It is now eighteen years later. I am no longer alone, nor am I lonely (being married with ten children nips that in the bud rather quickly). I am no longer filled with anxiety (on most days, anyway), but confident that I am faithfully responding to God's call in my life. I now have a salary and benefits package considerably larger than my remuneration in 1987. My son's college costs are now roughly twice the amount I received in salary eighteen years ago. I am not simply existing, but in many ways thriving.
The years have taken their toll in my life, however. I am not as idealistic as I once was. My understanding of God is more finely shaped. I tend more toward cynicism than optimism on most days. As with all of us who have reached the stage of "middle life," I have absorbed many wounds to the psyche and the spirit. But I am a stronger, more resilient, more capable person as a result. And these are good traits for someone whose call in life is to heal. As an adoptive parent my task is to promote healing and health in the lives of life-burdened children. As a spouse my commission is to promote health and contentment in the life of a pulled-in-many-directions friend. As a pastor I create opportunities to help people make connections with the Healer. And I am certain that I couldn't be competent in any of those arenas of my life had it not been for the many moments of pain and change I have encountered in the past forty-one years of my life. As time rolls on, I am reminded that I will have continuing opportunities for daily shaping, moments of joy and moments of pain. I can anticipate these wounds and know that they have an eventual purpose.
Time. It's the wound of all healers.