t's the middle of the night, and I just had realized that I forgot to put something in the mail today. So I got myself together, grabbed it, and walked downstairs and around the corner to the mailbox on Wisconsin Avenue. It's as quiet as this place ever gets. Strangely little traffic, as even this time of night usually sees a car go by every minute to two. There's always a back-and-forth debate of seagulls here, too, but they have gone silent as well, or have just simply gone, which I cannot recall ever happening at this time of the year. It's cool. Mid/lower sixties, with a bit of wind out of the north, ten or fifteen degrees cooler than my slightly stuffy apartment. It's not just quiet; it's still
And suddenly, as I walked out under that dark and felt the cool breeze move over my skin, part of me was twenty years old again, standing out in the quiet of the night up by the Meadows retreat house
, knowing that I can walk over and rap on Angie's pop-up trailer door and persuade her to take a walk, maybe across the high meadows to Barber Cliffs. And if not Ang, then Beck, or (the other) Angie, or Peter or Kim. I'm suddenly no longer the me who has come to prefer a bit more creaturely comfort, but the me who sleeps all summer in a worn brown cloth sleeping bag, outside more often than not, because the cool air running over my arms is the cool air of a mild night at camp
. I'm the me who lives happily out of a frame backpack for three months of every year instead of feeling crowded by all my stuff in a spacious one-bedroom apartment. I'm the me who is still far more a student than a teacher, although it is this place that is giving me my first taste of the latter. And although I know everyone is asleep, I feel a twinge of guilt in leaving my campers under the care of my SGL (Small Group Leader a.k.a. "camp counselor") partners while I treat myself to the beauty of the unrestrained stars pouring out their chorus in the country skies above me.
And as I turn away from the mailbox and start to move closer to the entrance to my building, I realize that some part of me still believes that there is a way back to this scene, or rather that this scene is not somewhere in my past but is a part of my present, still: that I simply have chosen some other part of my present than the one I am suddenly so vividly remembering. I don't know whether this belief is a sign of some kind of immaturity, of dwelling too much on part of my past, or of not letting go of those days in some way. I don't know whether that question is even important. And so I wonder whether some 80 year-old Mike is right now looking at the Mike in Marquette, and sure that that time, too, is just around the corner from him, somewhere by the mailbox, and that these friends, too, haven't really faded away into some irretrievable past.
My undergraduate mentor, amused in a slightly contemptuous way about the birth of my interest in the history of theology and of the beginnings of an intellectual sort of faith, would merrily harrass me about such things while we sat talking in his office, or over at DeKalb's Twin Tavern. He always wanted to reduce Christian faith to "pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by," or, more simply put, the fear of death. Such things never occurred to me at that age, because I had the luxury, like many in their early twenties of unconsciously thinking myself immortal. Faith for me was instead just a reaction to historical events, like watching the evening news. But now, older, more educated, the question of an afterlife has crossed my mind once or twice. Christianity really doesn't say much about it: Jesus simply affirmed (and demonstrated) such a potential in our existence, and that has pretty much been all that's been said: a kind of life, continuing, but fully realizing its potential in the God who is Life Itself. And it crosses my mind that such a God – Being Itself, He/She Who Is, encompassing within that great Fact all that the universe ever produces – also contains, preserves, maximizes that me who is walking through the night up by Meadows, feeling the cool summer wind run over my bare arms and legs, enthralled by the splash of the Milky Way that arches and burns above me, and who is blessed with others who love living in these moments with me. And so I wonder whether I am right to sense that there is a way back to that scene after all.