I have lived the vast majority of my adult life ‘away from home.’ It was never easy. The whole time a song by Derek Webb, Faith My Eyes, was a comfort, playing both in my headphones and in my memory. It has this great line, ‘I’m all wrapped up in my mother’s face with a touch of my father up around the eyes.’ I love that line because it describes my face pretty well.
I spent the lion’s share of my years away from home working in church jobs. I started aged 18 in Illinois, wandered via York and Luton and ended up in Bath.
When I moved to Bath, to work for the church there, it felt like an arrival. Here I was after all the training, reading, experience and experiment with a role from which I could put it all into practice. Yet, as I’ve said before, it was bad for my health, so I made the terrifying step to walk away.
I now work at a rope bridge shouting at tourists who aren’t being careful enough as they walk 100ft up, between two volcanic columns. The honest truth is, in spite of my gratitude for a job and for the chance to be in the middle of stunning scenery all day, it raises questions within me about who I am.
There is a large part of me that thinks that my days in ‘ministry’ are done. That I burnt out and exhausted what I had. That makes me sad as it is what I’ve loved doing with life. Yet, the saddest thing is that I allowed the role I played in churches to get a grip on my identity. My job title somehow defining as who I was, not just what I did with my time. Prising those fingers open to release that grip has not been easy.
I think the loudest question I hear in my mind is: what was or is the point of all of that? In the bad moments it feels like years wasted. Those are of course, bad moments and are to be respected but questioned.
Today, I watched a very small child toddle across the rope bridge, hand gripped tightly by his father. The child was unaware of almost everything in the scene that I could see. The child knew of two things, his dad, and the boards beneath his feet. He was unaware of the gulls, the line of people behind him edging across at his slow pace, the cliffs, the sea, me. His world was small and compact yet contained within the grand expanse of the whole scene. He knew only of the boards and his dad’s hand and he kept on walking.
I found it to be a helpful analogy for life. All of our worlds are compact and small. We rush from one place to the next contained within our bubble. We are usually only aware of what we see with our eyes and hold in our hands and we keep on walking, unaware of so much around us.
Yet the scene is more beautiful than that somewhat nihilistic view. There is a father’s hand, a memory made, photos taken and future stories written. It was more than thirty seconds on a bridge, it was a young boy being and becoming himself. Ultimately, I think, that’s the point; that whether crossing a rope bridge with dad or leaving a job, all of it invests in who we are becoming.
Who I am is not what I did for a living for most of my adult life, but that sure is part of it. We are all a complex mix of failures and wins, delights and regrets. Our memories create us as much as we create our dreams. Every tragedy and triumph builds or breaks our confidence a little bit. Every person we knew, loved or detested, wove a stitch in our design. Every love lost or won, friend for life or long lost, has formed us. All of it creates us, all of it makes us who we have become and who we are becoming.
That’s what is ‘wrapped up in my mother’s face with a touch of my father up around the eyes.’ It’s the boy and adolescent and man who lived all those days to now, and the bits of those days that stuck around as character, lessons learned and scars yet to heal.
Today at the bridge I realised that all of life is ‘the point’ in all of its giant complexities contained in tiny moments. I’m determined not to waste it.