Writing is getting harder than ever. I hate that.
I can find the time, and sometimes I can even find the ideas, but there’s a paralysis that creeps up my arms and into my throat when I try to paste words together into thoughts, and it’s getting more and more difficult to fight through it. Like I said, I hate that.
Lately I have been praying that foolish, wonderful prayer for God to teach me fear and trembling. I remember in the prayer room at Grove City, both in the communal journal and on the butcher paper on the walls, our precious overabundance of English majors used to write out John Donne’s sonnet in earnest to their Lord: “Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend…” Sometimes I smile and shiver when I think of all the ways He must be answering those prayers. Then I think of my own prayers and immediately want to pull my knees tight to my chest. Fear and trembling…
Of course, my life is pretty stable, I am returning for a second year of teaching at Caldwell, with almost exactly the same load I had last year, and I am living with my best friend of 14 years in an apartment less than a mile from the house where I grew up. I have never been an adventurer.
And along with getting ready for school, I’ve been watching a lot of Friends. It’s been fun. I’ve been thinking, though. It’s a show that’s supposed to be this iconic look at what it’s like to be in your twenties, how you need something to center yourself on, how you need (wait for it) your friends. Because it’s at this point in our lives that many of us realize that we are finally out there, in the big old world that’s been so criticized and lionized to us. And what and how are we going to do from here?
Perhaps the first thing everyone my age has noticed is that friendships are harder now. I have many friends but I have to work and work to love them and to hear them. I have to set up phone dates and answer texts. Even for the friends here in town, we have to constantly invite one another into our lives, add seeing one another to our to-do list, make the time even when we don’t have it.
When we do get together, we catch up. And I will tell you a dreadful secret: I am sick of catching up. I love these people, and I want very much to know how they’re doing, but at some point I’d like the conversation to progress into something more. (I first realized we were really and truly grown-ups when people my own age started politely asking how my family was.) I’d like to actually participate in living with one another, instead of just getting the recap highlights reel.
We talk about our jobs, our attempts to find them, and our attempts to find the work of our own hands in them. I will say, it’s been a peculiar joy to me to see so many friends light up: This is it! This is hard and this is good. Or even, This job is not what I meant at all, at all. But now I think I know where I’m headed, and once I get out of here, I think I even know how to get there.
I often walk away from these conversations thinking about teaching and high school. When I first got up in front of a class last fall, I was startled at how familiar these kids seemed to me. Their laughter and their shrugs, their bitterness and innocence showed me myself at sixteen and myself at twenty-two. But I was somehow simultaneously shocked to find that there was also a great chasm between us. I am stunned by the minute and large ways you change and grow as you enter the long corridors of your twenties. This is the age when the sounds in your head at last quiet down, when, for better or for worse, you can finally hear yourself think.
And so here each of us twenty-somethings sits… Lonely is not the right word, although it’s a very real possibility for many of us. Solitary is better. Alone with our souls and the Lover of our souls. Other people still matter, oh how they matter, but they don’t have the power over us that they used to. We are discovering that we “hang always upon the cross of ourselves.” “The mind has cliffs of fall,” and we have begun to peer down over them to learn the depths and the heights. There are tall, bright waves crashing at the bottom.
In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’s science fiction retelling of the Fall, the one command the green lady must obey is to never spend the night on the “fixed land.” When she goes to sleep she must lie down on one of the floating islands in the seas of her world, and trust God that she will wake up in a place where he still cares for her, even if it’s quite different than any place she imagined or knows.
I am twenty-three, I have clambered onto a floating island, and the fixed land is receding in the distance. I am calling out for it as I watch it go. I am afraid. I know: this is not safe, but it is good.