If I could categorize my life down into relationships and work and education and just sorta divide it all up, it would be easy to think of the last several years as having been a series of beginnings and ends – the ‘Wabash years’ or the ‘camp years’ or the ‘Peace Corps adventures,’ and so many of those two- to four-year chunks of time would feel completed. Something about the way my brain functions seems to draw me into compartmentalizing life to try to make the most sense out of it as I can. But maybe it’s not that clean-cut with such clear endings.
I remember finishing college and thinking, “Well, that’s it. I’m done with Wabash.” But in so many ways, Wabash was never really done with me. The things I learned there carried into my Vanderbilt education and went with me to Morocco. And, speaking of Morocco, there’s the Peace Corps. There was something incredibly final about leaving, as the boat pulled away from the Port of Casablanca. You could say, I don’t live in Morocco anymore. That chapter of my life is closed. Except it’s not. The third goal of the Peace Corps is lifelong: “To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” That’s why I started blogging, and it’s why I’ve talked in churches and classrooms about Morocco and about Islam. It’s been crucial to me to get this message out that says, “Hey, I lived with these folks; they aren’t terrorists. They’re incredibly wonderful, incredibly hospitable, and I consider them family.” In a period of transition right now, I can’t say where that adventure leads me, but when the boat pulled away from Casablanca, I now know that wasn’t the end of that experience. I mean, the fact that I still dream in Arabic speaks volumes, after all.
When I got back from Morocco, one of the things I thought I was done with was organized religion. For too long, I’d either watched religious people hurt one another or even been one of the folks causing the hurt. It was easy to typecast religious people as manipulative, controlling hypocrites, cause a lot of the time, they were, and so I said I was done, that it was time to distance myself from it for good. And that’s who I was; it was who I needed to be in the midst of that grief. But in coming to realize that life is process, not outcome, I’ve come to see that, sometimes, we’re done… until we’re not anymore.
I’m not done with Wabash or camp or Peace Corps or organized religion. Those things are embedded into who I am and always will be. We may sometimes have moments where, for our own sakes, we have to distance ourselves from the people or the institutions that made us who we are, but we’re never really done with them. We’re “in the soup” with them, so to speak, constantly working through and negotiating how our past is going to navigate our present.
One of my Facebook friends shared a picture this morning (above) that shows two images of time – how we perceive time as a linear movement of cause-and-effect vs. what time actually is, an intertwined collection of causes and results that lead to other causes and results. That first image is what we like to believe because we really do want to hold to this notion that we can categorize our lives with beginnings and ends. That’s the easy way to make sense of it. But in reality, one thing just leads to another which leads to another, and there’s no reason to think we won’t eventually be brought full circle. That image of time may be chaotic and crazy, but there’s something refreshing about it. And it’s worth remembering in those moments when we think and claim we’re done, with anything, that we never really are.