Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fixed Points

“The next place I live,” Mike was saying, “I’m going to settle in. I’m going to have a place for everything and really unpack.” We were talking about the next chapter, after this apartment. In a few months, all of the current tenants here will be looking for new homes. They’re making the building ready for sale. This change wasn’t unexpected really, just not for that reason. Mike has been in school the past three years, and he’ll be done in the spring too. I’d always anticipated we’d all move out after he graduated.

About the time we found out about our deadline, our apartment building became the set of Friends (since everything in real life is defined by hit TV comedies). I live with two other guys, and on the floor below we have three female friends who live together. When they all moved in, I proposed that we have community dinners together once a week. We’ve been doing it now for only a month or two, but I look forward to it every week.

When we moved in, I had no idea that I’d still be here two and a half years later, or that it would feel this familiar. I think when most people think about the future, they project it out in straight lines from the present. What we can’t foresee are all the lines that will intersect with our own and change our course, in small and large ways. There are certainly intersections we hope or plan for, but they aren’t certain, and there are many more we just can’t anticipate. For a single 20something, intersections can change a lot of things. I don’t have to tell you that.

I was reading an article this weekend about cell phone and they’re being used by billions of impoverished people. It’s saving them time too. When a billion people are each saving a little bit of time, that’s a lot of time savings. It’s a small change, but it creates a big difference.

In the article, this line hit my life: “In an increasingly transitory world, the cell phone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity.” How long have you had your cell phone? I’ve had this model for about a year. I’ve had this phone number for probably six or seven years. Anyone I’ve given my phone number in the last 2000+ days could call me tomorrow and get a hold of me.

That could be a scary thought, but it’s that reliable. I haven’t had anything in my life that stable in the last six or seven years. Since then, I’ve lived in three states, called at least five places “home,” dated a few different girls, bought a new car, worked three or four jobs, and had maybe a dozen roommates. My cell phone has been one of the few settled parts of my life, and even at that it’s only the ten digit number, not the physical phone (I’m on number 3). Why is something mobile the thing I can rely on most?

Recently I also started reading a book called Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls. It was selected at a book club I’m a part of. I didn’t go looking for a book to tell me how rootless my life is, but it came and found me.

All in all, it’s had me thinking more about the upcoming move. Mike was speculating last week about where the whole cast would end up after the series finale in May. He rattled off where he thought each character would be. Closer to work, closer to home, out of state, toward downtown, with another friend. He didn’t tell me where I would be. Even I only have a direction: northeast. Like Abraham (the similarities end there).

Most clear from Mike’s quick analysis was that none of the cast would still be together in 8 months. We would be dispersed in all directions from here. We would all find a new place, with new casts, new shows. We’d be new characters.

In Searching for Home, Craig Barnes outlines how we, without other stable points of reference, establish identity in relation to the roles we have in our lives. For me, in different contexts, I am a supervisor, a friend, a roommate, a small group leader, a brother, a son, an uncle.

Barnes put it this way: “The individual becomes nothing more that a collection of roles defined by unrelated demands.... She knocks herself out to succeed in all of the identities because they each offer her something.” He goes on to quote Kenneth Gergen: “Who and what we are is not so much the result of our ‘personal essence’...but how we are constructed in various social groups. The initial stages of this consciousness result in a sense of the self as social con artist, manipulating images to achieve ends.” As much as I try to live consistently, I can’t, if only because different people bring out different sides of me. Things like Facebook and even this blog are a challenge because it is the intersection of many of those images.

Of course, my cell phone isn’t the most stable thing in my life. I should say that God is, and I believe that’s true. But when life takes a new trajectory at every intersection, it’s hard to approximate anything like the stability of relating to the immutable God. When I can’t project a straight line off the front of life into the future with any certainty, then outlining what an lasting relationship looks like feels quite impossible. It’s outside my experience.

This summer, I attended a meaningful and heartbreaking funeral. He was the father of a friend of mine. Three people gave eulogies: two “old friends,” and one “new friend.” The two old friends had known him for more that twenty years. I sensed in their words an abiding knowledge of him, a commitment to him, and a desire to carry on the investments he’d made in them. I wondered what that was like.

There are a lot of people who pick up and move to advance their careers and build better lives. And perhaps one day I will find myself faced with a decision like that. But I witnessed in those eulogies something that no career could build.

I’ve lived in Chicagoland now for three years and been committed to a church that comes and goes in much the same way. I’ve led a small group that whole time and have probably had 40 people come and go. Only two or three of them have I known in any consistent way for more than a year.

Now, I’m certain that any sort of faithfulness on my part will never approach any similarity to our reliable and unchanging God. And I’m learning that few 20something friendships last longer than a few seasons of Friends. But I can take a more modest aim and hope to be more faithful and reliable than my cell phone number.


Erin said...

Your comments about the stability you find in your cell phone resonated with me. As Dave and I are preparing to sign up for a new plan, I've found myself being completely stubborn about keeping the number I've had for the last 5 years. Until I read this post, I hadn't quite understood why it was so important, but now I know: with all of the changes in my life this year, my cell phone has been the one constant.

Like you said, God is the most constant, but He's not as tangible as the numbers that, in a way, serve as our identity for years.

Dan said...

I just got really sad reading your post.


Okay, so you're not a jerk. But I though about how on June 30 I will likely be in my new place, wherever that may be, doing a new thing, maybe, with new people. And while my life has never gone from good to worse (the opposite is true), it doesn't mean I look forward to being so far from so many amazing people.

Anonymous said...

i refuse to get a new cell phone. 3 years, a couple dents, and 2 batteries later, it's still the one. we're in it for the long haul. :-)

Adam said...

I didn't read Mike's latest post until after this one was posted. The theme wasn't intentional, but apparently it's contagious in our apartment.

Erin - Glad you found some clarity. That makes me happy.

Dan - I recommend the Carribean Jerk at BWW.

Tales - Persevere!

Mike Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Moore said...

Well put. I think it's time to create the future!

Rachael Monts said...

Seriously, you're not allowed to talk about all of us moving away from each other yet. Let me just pretend it's not going to happen for a little while longer, PLEASE!!!!