[29 April 2019]

I sat there in the kitchen with you last night. You had just changed out of church clothes. From a grey dress and denim jacket and your nice shoes to a pink oversized t-shirt and yoga pants and black socks.

You only own four pairs of shoes: your nice shoes, your boots, your flip flops, and your running shoes. You’re a person of simple taste on principle: if I don’t need more shoes than that, I won’t get them.

You wear your boots when it’s cold. You hate the cold. It bits into your body and turns your fingers and toes a greenish blue. Your flip-flops you wear as much as possible. You always wanted to live by the beach. I don’t know why you’ve stayed here this long. You wear you nice shoes to every occasion that wouldn’t fit any of the others.

And your running shoes. You put these on every day. And you run. Ten miles a day, even though it feels like knives in your knees and back each step of the way. You’re a creature of habit on principle, with a will of iron. Maybe one day you’ll find joy in the doing and not just in the have-done.

But you are steady. You make me feel safe because I always know exactly who you are and exactly where you’ll be. Paradoxically, this is also what scares me most about you. In 26 years, I’ve never once seen you change your mind. Maybe one day you will.

I don’t understand that. My soul is chaotic and amorphous. It never quite knows where to go or what to believe. My soul is an ocean, changing with the wind and the weather, running its course around the world only to find it ended up where it started.

You’re not like that. You are more like a compass. I don’t think you’re pointing north, but at least you’re always pointing the same way – towards a bright star on the horizon that only you can see. And you follow. You run with all your might after it and grab us by the hand or arm or ear or whatever appendage you can grab and you run towards the destination with as many people as you can grab in tow. You refuse to leave the ones you love behind. Your passion is compelling, entrancing. You see this light so strongly and so vividly that, when I’m with you, I can almost see it, too.

I’ve always wondered: Do you feel trapped by that? Do you like being the gold standard of morality, the propitious paragon of your own brand of virtue? On my end, it’s both awe-inspiring to witness and terrifying knowing that I’ll never come close or measure up.

You make a late-night cup of decaf coffee. And when I say “late-night,” you know I mean about 8PM. You go to bed at 9PM every night if you can help it. I got that from you. You mix your oat milk creamer into your coffee. You can’t drink real milk. Not since your mom died. Just like how you haven’t been able to eat wheat since your dad walked away from the family. You internalize hard things and they destroy you on the inside. The outside never cracks, never crumbles.

It’s easy for me to look at you – see the unshakable confidence and certitude – and think that you are as invulnerable emotionally as you are morally. You feel deeply – a lot more deeply than I ever give you credit for. Were you born with that foundation or has it built up like sedimentary rock over the years?

You have seen a lot. You have made your own mistakes, yes, but you are wise enough to live through the lives of others. Through the books you read and the movies you watch, you have lived their lives, too, and you won’t make their mistakes. But your wisdom is also a curse. You see things – so much more than you want to. And because you see things, you feel compelled to speak. Because you love. And so you speak. And you wound. And you are pushed away. And you are hurt. Yet you stand up and speak again, determined not to let those you love walk down roads you fear.

I asked you about your day. Apparently you saved someone’s life in church yesterday. The lady went into AFib right there in the middle of the service. You said your hands were shaking because you’ve never had to use an AED before. But that’s why you’re a nurse. You believe that people should help other people. Most people do, but you do something about it. You give your life in the pursuit of ideals. Like the way you serve the church: ending up on every team, serving on every committee, and in everyone’s home with casseroles and good advice. Or like the way you run. You think people should exercise every day. Most people would agree, but you actually do something about it. You and I both charge into the future, unreservedly. I’m on an adventure. You’re on a mission. I run towards. You run for.

I make a silly joke. Something about the movie we just watched. You laugh. No-one I know likes to laugh more than you do. There’s little that’s more rewarding than landing a well-placed metaphor or a snarky joke in your presence. Your eyes light up and your voice rings out unashamed until you’re crying from joy.

I make you laugh again and again. Fortunately, it’s easy. I want you to see me, but I am scared – scared of you seeing me, of you seeing that my soul isn’t perfect, of you perfecting me without seeing me. I’m scared of being me in front of you because I’m afraid that I will never be good enough because you’re never good enough for yourself. That’s why I settle for humour. I feel like we have a connection that way, but you don’t have to know who I am. And maybe part of you wants it that way. Maybe you’re just as afraid to see me and I am afraid to be seen by you. If you see me, you’ll feel compelled to say something; if you say something, you risk pushing me away.

And so we dance this awkward dance called love. How do I bring myself to the table without harming myself or the one I love?

And you do love. Deeply. Fiercely. Fearfully.

You finish your coffee, rinse out your cup, and put it in the dishwasher. I kiss you on the cheek and you head up the stairs to bed.

Maybe one day you’ll see that love is not always a crusade. Maybe one day I’ll see that sometimes it is.

But, you are learning grace. I see it more and more as you grow older. You listen more. You think more. You pray more. You hope more. You even extend grace, usually against your better judgment. Maybe one day, you’ll even give grace to yourself.

Other sketches in this series:

4 responses to “One”

  1. thepoetryliner avatar

    Nathan I so enjoyed reading this. Absolutely profound and insightful and love-filled.

    1. Nathan avatar

      Thank you so much! A lot of love went into it 🙂

  2. […] Other sketches in this series: One […]

  3. […] sketches in this series: One […]

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