13 – memini
I boarded a plane in the wee morning hours to fly home. I was mindful of the fact that I would be losing time as I flew east, and I was already a little uneasy about how fast time seemed to be flying on its own.
At the Anchorage airport I discovered there would be a route change, giving me a brief layover in Portland, Oregon. I immediately looked up a college friend who was attending seminary in Oregon and he said he was on his way. I waited at the gate until the flight crew insisted I board the plane, and just when I sat down, they called me back up to the front. My good friend had made it – all the way from Beaverton to the Portland airport and my gate just to shake hands, say hello, and goodbye. Good friends are like that. (oh the days of pre 9/11)
A guy has time to think on a six hour flight. Six hours, as a matter of fact. I was listening to a 1987 cassette tape of Rush. Specifically, a song called “Time Stand Still.”
Chorus: Time stand still I’m not looking back But I want to look around me now Time stands still See more of the people And the places that surround me now Time stands still Freeze this moment A little bit longer Make each sensation A little bit stronger Experience slips away Experience slips away
I knew that I would not be back to Alaska anytime soon, if ever – just like London. I tried to record the experiences as well as possible but I knew memories would fade. I was 22 years old. I had by then seen enough death to make me appreciate the value and fragility of life, and savor the moments I could – stretching the good, learning from the bad.
If my faith fell apart in early college, and was re-assembled in late college and London, then my Alaskan missionary experiences set it solidly in concrete.
Docendo disco. I learn by teaching. And I did.
Alaska showed me people living in poverty that I could not remedy;
abuse that I could not stop;
anger that I could not calm;
oppression which I could not loosen.
But I gave several of them hope.
I showed Heather that she could still be loved. I showed John that he could know Truth. I showed Sarah that she was like the rest of us.
And I learned from them. I learned some of the same Hope I was teaching. They showed me that I could succeed. That depression lies. That prayer is not useless.
I turn my back to the wind To catch my breath, Before I start off again Driven on, Without a moment to spend To pass an evening With a drink and a friend I let my skin get too thin I’d like to pause, No matter what I pretend Like some pilgrim Who learns to transcend Learns to live As if each step was the end
I would have enjoyed more time with the friend in Portland, but I was flying home to catch my breath, unpack from Alaska, and pack for law school. Pondering memories on the flight, I reminded myself not to let the words and condescension of others get me down, like Sarah did, or I did in jr. high. On the other hand, as I mentally was preparing for law school, I was determined not to get so close to anyone there that I had to worry about the problems of hurt and pain.
I turn my face to the sun Close my eyes, Let my defenses down All those wounds That I can’t get unwound I let my past go too fast No time to pause If I could slow it all down Like some captain, Whose ship runs aground I can wait until the tide comes around
Based on old wounds, defenses go up. I had a few people around me then who I would let through, but going into a new world and a new school where I knew no-one, I decided to hold close to my family, M, and God, and few others. That was the safest way to be if I wanted to avoid recreating past hurts.
I felt like I could relate to the song well on that flight, but I didn’t even know that I was too young yet to get the last part:
But I want to look around me now See more of the people And the places that surround me now Time stands still Summer’s going fast Nights growing colder Children growing up Old friends growing older Freeze this moment A little bit longer Make each sensation A little bit stronger Experience slips away Experience slips away The innocence slips away
That part was way ahead of me then. As much as I appreciated the shortness and value of life itself, I didn’t yet grasp the full value of the relationships with the few people I was willing to let in, or even the ones I tried to keep out. They all have a purpose, after all. Do we ever fully grasp those values?
I arrived in Monroe, Louisiana with a still hard frozen salmon and cooked it for my family the way the Alaskans taught me: wrap it in foil with peppers and onions and salt, pepper, and garlic inside, and grill it till the milky white fat appears, and no longer. We ate dinner and I filed Alaska into memories and a black covered journal on a shelf.
That’s me in the upper left corner. My skin was a little thicker now, my faith a little stronger, and my walls a little higher.