Vol 5, Num 20 :: 2006.11.03 — 2006.11.17
I'm sitting here with the lights out. Honestly, I thought about handing out candy for Halloween, but then the intention escaped me and it still took me a few minutes to figure out why I was hearing children's voices out on the street. Suddenly, I realized the possibility of an unexpected knock and me without anything to hand out except some soft baking apples which wary parents would surely throw out anyway, though I confess I still allowed myself the joy of peeking through the curtains to see an excited three-year-old attempting a delightful waddling run down the block in a giant ladybug costume.
For me, this October, with its unusually early snow, has prompted many memories of Halloween in 1992. I was in eighth grade, stretching the limitations of trick-or-treating before high school would negate the ritual altogether. (In fact, dressing up became so associated with the reward of candy, it would take me another ten years to learn that I do actually enjoy getting into costume for its own sake.) My group of friends decided to go Goth for the holiday and trudged through knee-deep snow from house to house, dressed in black and collecting our sugary stash.
While most of our classmates were clustered in gender-segregated groups, only matching up for the occasional romantic experiment, I had found refuge with an odd assortment. Kim, Jason, Chuck, Heather and I were not the bottom of the social hierarchy—rather, we had figured out at some point that we could stand outside of the pyramid completely. We could kick around a red rubber playground ball at break, rather than stand around thinking about how pretty we looked. We could watch British sitcoms on the weekends, rather than try so hard to discover what making out was like. Not that we didn't have the desire to be attractive or express physical affection. My first kiss on the lips took place in eighth grade and I had the kindest junior high boyfriend one could hope for (for all of one weekend). But we knew that joy didn't come pre-packaged in the social structure that was handed down through generations of popular people.
Today, I know so little about these old friends that it's hard to even conjecture whether they've continued to walk the path on the fringes. I feel fortunate to have connected with teachers in high school who could affirm the validity of doing what one loves—learning, cultivating a craft, creating art, indulging a mind for numbers—even if that love lies outside of the standard expectations for a teen-ager. (I'm grateful that this issue's feature is written by one of those teachers.)
But a phone call from my mother today reminds me that my trajectory on this path began even before junior high. On a walk around a local farm where a family she knows recently moved, she was reminded of the richness of my elementary days at the Zandstra's house. While most of my peers were spending time playing Barbies, I was discovering the wonder of my friend Laura's family farm, where vegetable crates and bird bones scavenged from the junk yard were our toys and the onion fields our play room. On a Saturday morning, we'd grab whatever pair of shoes fit from the mudroom and disappear for the day, checking in for food and then heading back out again on the old golf cart. With Laura, I learned the joy of finding arrowheads protruding from the sandy soil, the creative potential of gourds, the delight of farm fresh strawberries dipped in sugar.
Whom do I thank for the goodness of this growing up? It certainly wasn't without the pain of humiliation or the hurt of imperfect friendships, but as I listen to old friends bemoan soulless corporate jobs and watch them live for any experience that helps them remember the "care-free" days of high school, I realize that I've been given a gift. Where do I even start? Nick and Ruth, thank you for welcoming your daughters' "city girl" friends into your home and for resisting the developers long enough to inspire one more generation of adventure-seekers. Ryan, thank you for being gentle and showing me what true love could look like. Bill and Mary and Jeff and Jim and Grace and Roger and Lynrae, thank you for nurturing your students' passions and encouraging them in the pursuit of God with your own example. Charles, thank you for challenging my churchy assumptions and being an unexpected agent of God's love. Mom and Dad, thank you for permitting me just enough freedom to discover a unique identity and just enough discipline to avoid (or at least learn from) stupid choices. And there are friends and teachers and mentors and pastors beyond these lists and years, all the way to the present day, who are journeying together still in the conviction that God is big, that the mystery is worth living with, that the Kingdom is invitational.
Next week, my husband and I will have more conversations with college students who are asking the same questions we have, and some we haven't even thought of yet. And next year, we will sit on our porch with candy to greet the trick-or-treating community—perhaps I'll mess with their assumptions about adults by wearing a goofy costume myself. And someday when he's old enough, my mom will take her grandson out to the farm, knowing the impact such a childhood had on her oldest daughter, and he will be struck by the miracle of vegetables and enchanted by the possibility of exploration. I have a suspicion that the gifts I've received are in eternal supply.