I was emailing back and forth with a friend from childhood today, and a few things came to light. Here they are:
-His children are turning 7 and 4
-We are officially men
-Time went fast, and will continue to do so
-We’ll soon be officially old men
-My imminent death is speeding toward me
Okay, so yeah, I turned a joyous birthday announcement into the end of my existence here on earth, but there is truth in it, right? It may be considered morbid, but I don’t see it as such. I see it as true, but beyond that I see it as helpful.
Such a thought is helpful in this way—the only thing I have keeping me from death is time. Each second ticks closer to that moment of ceasing to be, but likewise, each moment allotted to me is one diametrically opposed to death itself. Simply put, I’m alive while I have time. So what do I want this time to count for? What matters?
My final resolution with this line of thinking was that I scarcely know the friend with whom I was engaged in conversation. I know where he was born and raised, what school he attended, where he works. I know he is “fine” and that he likes the Cardinals—I know these things because this is the extent of the majority of our conversations:
“How you doing?”
“How ‘bout them Cards?”
We high five and walk away.
This is not a total waste of time, but it certainly isn’t best use of it. Plus, this conversation, beyond being shallow, is redundantly so. It is natural to begin relationships in the shallow-end, that is the end of the pool with the steps after all. But to remain perpetually in that end, well, what fun is one missing by not being able to plunge into the deep, cool waters? To scrape the bottom for whatever may lie beneath in stiller swirls?
Pleasantries are great; they are even necessary. But it is through plunging into the depths that one really cares for another, learns about him or her, and, in turn, discovers one’s self and whom one serves.
So here’s what I want to ask my friends, all of them. Here is how I can go from the Cardinals to the mind and the soul.
-What is your life filled with?
-What makes you restless/keeps you up at night?
-Who would you say you are you right now?
-Who do you want to be?
-How are you getting there?
-If everything was taken from you, what would you still have?
-What future regrets are you forming right now? What future memories?
-What’s broken in your life?
-How can I come alongside you?
While I may not be able to pop any of these questions on the passerby in the hallway or the bystander at the vending machine, I also do not want to have a bunch of loose acquaintances based on a surface level appreciation of a baseball team. As my acquaintances become friends, I would love to begin to transition from a “nice guy” to “a guy who truly cares.” Deeply.
And the other thing I realize when looking at this list of questions is how I wouldn’t know how to answer if I was asked many of them. The reason for this, I think, is because I am often content to mimic my way through life. I mask or neglect my inner issues and ignore my deeper longings. I’m good at answering surface level questions because I am used to doing that—I’m asked how I’m doing a million times a day and I reply with a rote societal answer: “Fine” or “Great” or “Good” or “Wonderful” (if it is a Friday). If, however, I have someone asking me deeper questions, it is like being given a pair of gloves without the foreknowledge of having hands, foreign and awkward. But even so, if I grow more accustomed to answering such questions, it means the precursor to the answer is the delving deep into my own soul for such answers. And this could be worldview shaping. What if I spent less time planning my next “fine” and more time considering what ways I am and I am not fine. What if my very worldview becomes less a series of habits and more a string of thoughtful decisions? And what if I can challenge similar thoughts in another?
I heard a story once from a college guy who was driving to some town in South Carolina with some friends. It was the middle of the night and the friends were all asleep, and this person, lonely and silent at the wheel, missed the exit that would direct them East and stayed on a southerly course. He drove and drove, even stopping for fuel and snacks along the way. Hours went by and eventually the sun came up on a gorgeous Southern Florida morning. They had reached a point where any other driving in the general direction they had assumed would plunge them into the Caribbean Sea.
I don’t want this to be my story nor that of my friends. I don’t want us languishing the scarce time we have left. Who knows? Perhaps like a well-placed road-sign, a friend with thoughtful questions and an ear to listen can help guide their lives along proper pathways.
I do know this—I won’t know if I never ask.