A few months ago, on the phone with my mom, I was crying. That’s nothing new. The crying was a new kind of crying, though—like relief, or release. The kind of release I imagine finally comes (in a much larger order) to people who have just endured an enormous feat of trembling psycho-physical endurance—the marathon, the trench, the slogging march of the exile.
Under those double-tests of both will and body, any falter in resolve, any sideways glance at the encircling darkness would lead to certain failure, and in some cases, death. The key to successful endurance is, I think, a temporary shrinking of the larger reality to focus only on the event at hand. It’s why runners can be stoic and soulless and steel-jawed straight through the finish line; and why, when the adrenaline of the race stops coursing through their bodies, they can become weeping crumpled children.
The sense of relief that had flooded me, and that I was haltingly relating to my mom through the radiowaves, was less dramatic and less identifiable than that of the athlete. I had just come from a weekend at Mount Hermon, a sprawling campus in the Santa Cruz mountains marked by spicy-smelling chapels, ropes courses in the redwoods, and cabins full of bygone accessories: a wood-burning stove, cast-iron skillets. It was the default site to which most Bay Area churches retreated for their annual weekends of communion—with each other, with the finally smog-less forest air, and, if all went well, with the Almighty God.
Meeting with God is rarely straightforward. I attribute this to many things, but most directly to our love of the darkness, our bewilderment in the light. We don’t know what to do in the light: flounder about in our newfound exposure, deem it uncomfortable. Undesirable.
At dusk this evening, I was assaulted by a moth on the porch of our house. I was trying to lock the front door as discreetly as possible, but the moth was making such panicked arcs around the porch-light that it kept rushing stupidly into my arm and shoulder—hurtling headfirst toward the glow to which it seemed so compulsively drawn, then losing all courage, tumbling back toward me or up into the cool wide night, keen to leave the yellow orbit. Its schizophrenia startled me. A new desire every half-second: beautiful light, abominable light. Consume me, leave me be.
I was telling my mom that, finally, I felt I was with God again, or God-with-me. Sharing the same spaces, Emmanuel. He hadn’t exactly found me at Mount Hermon, but during one of my antisocial flights from the campus, parked in a peeling 1999 Camry on the shoulder of the road beside the roaring Pacific. My sense of relief as I spoke with her came from being able, after a long period of self-imposed stoicism, to admit to all of my longings out loud.
Longings are not public things. They may determine entire human destinies, but rarely do they see the light of day. We tout our ambitions proudly, but our desires—the very marrow of our lives, so earnest and private we’re instinctively ashamed of them—remain securely trenched in us.
I told her that God had so often manifested in my life as an absence, a longing for reunion. I believe incompleteness is the most basic human condition. I have known God as a once-vital part of myself: a limb lost so early on that I can hardly remember my fully-formed self, but so great a loss that I re-encounter it every time I move my body. I told her that my longing for oneness with God, for reunion with my many lost limbs—it stretched backward like a thrumming thread through all the years I’d already lived, and even now it was stretched taut ahead of me, pulling me upward and outward with agonizing force like a newly-hooked fish.
“Well, most of life is just trying to get back to God,” she said.
Most of it is. Amen, amen.