I found myself a bit lost in time and space over the past several days. Last week, after typing up the story about the night on the lake with Becky, I had a long phone call with an old friend/girlfriend from my undergraduate days that hit me on so many levels that I found myself musing on one aspect or another of the conversation through the rest of the weekend. Part of it was just the normal catch-up, the what's-been-going-on in the months since we last spoke. But Angie had also been doing a lot of thinking about her past in that time, she said, and she wanted to let me know just how I had figured in her life.
It was kind of staggering to be given credit for long-ago kindnesses that helped lay a foundation for the life she has today with Chad and their girls. I'm an historian, and an Augustinian in so many ways, and I habitually follow Augustine in using my own life story as a ground for a spiritual reflection and insight in the way he demonstrated in The Confessions. If there's anything I love in teaching history, it's the moments where you can show students long chains of cause-and-effect: if 300 Spartans and their companions hadn't defended Thermopylae, no American Constitution twenty-two centuries later – that sort of thing. It was new, though, to hear something like those kind of long consequences drawn out from my own life. We dwell so much on that bad things that happen to us and to others. I know students resonate with the example of hearing a cruel word said about you in the high school hallways when I talk of historical chains of causality. I don't know that we so strongly realize the good things. It's like physical health: we recount episodes of being sick, but we don't keep a tally of days of health – we take those as "normal" or as our due, and all our blessings become hazy in memory. I've pointed that out in story before, echoing Tolkien in another observation: the evils that happen to us make for stories, while the days of goodness, while better to live, don't seem to be something we can easily turn into compelling stories. Would that that were somehow true: this entry might make more sense. Yet somehow these moments that Angie took to try to make me hear her, and to thank me, did in fact make that kind of impact.
She had continued in that kind of reflective mood afterward, writing a long addendum letter that shared some copies of mementos she had dug out that night, and following up on a few points. So that sent me for a further loop as I read it on Saturday, and re-read it Sunday on my way to Chicagoland for the nieces' dual birthday party. Theologically, of course, I suppose that this gets to the heart of what I think is ultimately true about reality: that at its foundation, it really is about Love, about a Triune God whose mode of existence is an interpersonal love, and that this base gives the rest of reality its character, from quantum physics to human psychology. And so here I'm given a chance to see that love continues, always, to bear fruit, even the love of college friends who dated for a while and who now haven't seen one another in years. I can think of things that didn't go right, that I was young and immature and dorky when we dated (some would say "male"), but that part doesn't really matter anymore. Even the "dating" part isn't really a big deal: it's the strength of the friendship we offered underneath, and can continue to enjoy still today in some fashion. All the rest seems to fade. Angie's husband, Chad, is one of the coolest people ever, and has really welcomed me as a friend, too, as well as supporting Angie and me in continuing to be friends over the years – the foundation of Christianity in the friendship has allowed that kind of generosity, and made the fact that we once dated to be not an issue. But instead, whatever was done right in love, of seeing the beauty and what was to be loved in the other: those seem to be the things that continue to bear fruit in people's lives, that become part of us. Maybe love enables us to become what others see in us.