Monday, March 23, 2015

Time is Never the Same

From twenty yards away, up by one goal to nil on the opposing club, I see the ball rocket off my opponent's foot like a howitzer.

The ball whips and bends through the air to my right, and I watch its flight the whole way.

I can see where it's going, and my body begins to react the same way it has dozens of times before--I tense my legs, bend at the knees, and launch my body across the frame of the goal (in my mind, I look like a flying squirrel.  In real time, I probably look like a penguin who has slipped on ice).

I cast my hands outward to meet the ball, and even before they make contact, I say to myself, you've got this one.

Goalkeepers will all tell you that there are times when faced with a particularly difficult shot on goal that time itself seems to bend and warp, to slow down to give you enough time to make the save.  In reality, it is rather that our positioning and reflexes are in form, but it an amazing, almost mystical, physiological experience to feel the moments tick away far slower than they really ought.

And so slowly, I uncoil into a full stretch, and as the ball thunders against the specialized gloves I wear for both protection and grip, I push the ball wide of its intended destination in the upper corner of the goal.

The one-goal lead is still intact.  We can still win this.

Six days earlier

I rush out from church after Sunday worship like a madman, a whirling dervish with a Bible, rumpled slacks, and a mission.

It isn't an attempt to beat my congregants in the sprint to the parking lot.  Most Sunday afternoons, I'm the last one here.

A 93-year-old matriarch of our congregation has passed away at her daughter's home, while worship was going on, and I'm high-tailing it over there, feeling terrible that I couldn't be there for when she went (something I wrote last week about), but also feeling ready to be there now.

I climb into my car and exhale.  The ignition turns over and I peel out onto the street like a bat out of hell.  I can already imagine the conversation when I get pulled over for speeding:

ME: I'm sorry, officer, but I'm a pastor and one of my congregants just died.

OFFICER WHO HOPEFULLY IS ANDY SAMBERG FROM BROOKLYN NINE-NINE: Hey, no worries, I totally understand, but my boss is a total hardass, so can I see some proof?

ME: Um, well, here's a business card, and my hospital ID badge...

MAKE-BELIEVE ANDY SAMBERG: Sweet, can you get free food at the hospital cafeteria with that?


MAKE-BELIEVE ANDY SAMBERG: Okay, that just sucks.  Hey, I'm hungry, want to grab a bite to eat?

ME: My congregant just passed away...

MAKE-BELIEVE ANDY SAMBERG: Right.  On your way, Reverend Reverendness.

It's a brief, fleeting moment of mental joy in a sea of concern as I race against my own clock to make it to the house and see everyone and say a belated farewell to my Florence.

I say "my own clock" because there really is no other clock at work here--the family is expecting me, yes, but when someone has already died (as opposed to actively dying), time is, objectively, less of an issue.  You can wait several hours before asking a funeral home to come for someone's body.

But as I drive across town, I feel the minutes going by faster and faster.  I drive faster and faster in a vain attempt to chase them down.

It feels like I am getting further and further from my congregant's passing, even as geographically, I am in fact getting closer and closer.

And I begin to get that feeling of something slipping away from me, that dread anticipation over the lack of control over time.

So I say to myself again--not out of assurance this time, but out of reassurance--you've got this one.

This time, though, time has changed.  It is no longer the same.  It never was.

More than once, I heard "We're so grateful we got so much time with her."  Florence was 93 and unburdened by the dementia that can turn us into completely different people in our twilight years.  We should all be so lucky to have that length of time to spend with our loved ones.

I was wrong.  Time isn't the same for me, not yet, anyways.  Sure, I can look back on my childhood and think, "Wow, how did become an adult so fast?"  But I cannot yet stretch it out the way I have seen it elongated in other peoples' lives, people who have seen far more and experienced far more than I have.

I'm back on the soccer field now.

The rain has picked back up, and I'm absolutely drenched.  I can't wait to be able to change my jersey, get into my dry car, and return home to my wife and dogs.

But I can't, not yet, anyways.

The game hasn't ended.  Time hasn't gone any faster for me since the last time I was called upon to throw myself into a shot.

It carries me onwards nonetheless.  Rarely at the pace I would like, but always at the pace that is needed...for me to stop a soccer ball in midair, to make it to the bedside of a congregant, or to stop and write about how difficult it genuinely is for me to be in so little control over life even as I am called to surrender it to God each and every day.

It is a divine surrender that is ongoing.  Just like time itself.

Yours in Christ,

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