The first few weeks of shelter in place were, as you might imagine for my house, full of chaos. Sara and I simply tried to make it from six in the morning when the kids woke up to around seven thirty when they finally collapsed into bed. It was almost laughable, because every night we would ask the question, “What do you want to do tonight?” and the answer was always the same, “Nothing”. Raising kids is absolutely exhausting! The good news is that our rhythm has shifted over the last three weeks and now we are beginning to find our groove. Nights that were spent doing nothing are now filled with card games and storytelling. Television shows have been replaced with conversation, which is a wonderful addition. We will pour ourselves a drink and go through old photo albums. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my wife has an album dedicated to each grade of her education from second grade through dental school. There are so…many…photos. We talk about what we hope to do when this pandemic finally passes (seeing family and friends complete with lots of hugs are high on the list) while we listen to our favorite albums from the late nineties.
As a general rule, my musical taste in that era consisted of a mixture of Phish, Tupac, and Rage Against the Machine. Friends, they hold up strong twenty years later! But believe it or not, Sara does not care for any of my favorite musicians. Seriously, what is wrong with her? Her tastes were more refined, with N-Sync and Celine Dion being some of her favorites. There is a fair amount of contrast in our style and we often agree to disagree about music. However, like almost anyone else raised in the suburbs in the mid-nineties, we both share a love for the alternative music that defined the anxious complexity of suburban life. Counting Crows, Third Eye Blind, and others like them have been constant friends in the evening over the past few weeks. Often, the music just provides a little background noise. But every once in a while, I will stop and listen to what they are saying. Sometimes the lyrics grab us and invite us to take an existential journey, because if nineties alternative didn’t do that, then what era of music ever will?
Do you remember Better than Ezra? Of course, you do. They were one of the best bands of the period and their 1996 song, “Desperately Wanting” has a chorus that sticks in your head and won’t go away. You are singing it right now, aren’t you? Well, a few nights ago as Sara and I sat in our living room, going through old pictures, this song came on and ever since I can’t get it out of my head or my heart. The song is all about a person who is reminiscing on his youth, on the days when he used to go around his neighborhood and do things that only teenage boys will do. The story itself takes a dark turn and tells us that one of the narrators’ friends has taken a wrong turn in life, going down the path, that as Jesus said, leads to destruction. But that isn’t the part of the song that grabbed me. Instead, it’s the refrain that held my attention. It’s the refrain that resonated with me in our COVID-19 world, as it reflects on the preciousness of each moment. Four short lines about remembering nights long since passed and wishing that he could go back to simpler days and times.
“I remember running through the wet grass. Falling a step behind. Both of us never tiring. Desperately wanting.”
Looking through all those old photos and listening to my favorite bands have provided me with a number of reasons to “remember running through the wet grass”. I think most of us have experienced that feeling at some point during this pandemic, where we take a look back across our life and reflect on the goodness of days gone by, remembering the people and places that have shaped our lives. With all this time on our hands, we have been given ample opportunity to take stock of our lives. Reflecting on the good is always a wonderful idea.
But I hope we don’t just stop there, because I think there is something else to recognize in those four simple phrases from Better Than Ezra, and it has the ability to change the way we see our lives. This song is about days gone by and reflecting on, as the writer said in an interview, “a time where all your potential is untapped and the world hasn’t had its way with you.” But how does it manifest itself in the song? He doesn’t remember the grand vacation he took or the stuff that filled every corner of his room. There is not a word to be heard about “desperately wanting” a new iPhone or an awesome new SUV. The song isn’t about those things, because those things don’t matter. What shaped this song, and also what shapes our lives, is something much more mundane. The things that ultimately give us joy and found in the everyday.
“I remember running through the wet grass.”
We remember that hug from a friend who held us so tight that we could barely catch our breath. I can’t forget about the dinner Sara made us on Saturday. We sat outside on the back deck, underneath the stringed lights she recently hung, and we laughed about how crazy our children are; how tired they make us and how much love they bring into our lives. The sweetness of a strawberry picked fresh from the vine in April. The notes you make in the margins of your favorite book. Friends, the good stuff is found in the simple, ordinary, everyday rhythms of our lives. Joy lives in the details. I might even go a little further and say that God is most clearly present in the small stuff. Christ is right there as I watch my girls give each other a hug first thing in the morning.
This is where the challenge comes into play. When things were “normal”, I was at work when these incredible moments would happen. I wasn’t at home most nights of the week and we ran at a breakneck pace in the morning to get our kids to school, so we could be at work on time. If there is a silver lining in this pandemic for me, I have learned that “normal” really isn’t all it was cut out to be. In the rush of being successful (it doesn’t matter what sort of work you do, we have all bought into success as defined by our culture), I had forgotten to keep my eyes and ears open to the goodness that is all around us, especially in the everyday moments.
You know what I have learned? Honestly, there isn’t much of a difference between the holy and the ordinary. The line between the sacred and the secular isn’t as wide as many of us have been taught to believe. We like to think that God shows up on Sunday morning in worship or really early in the morning when we pray in the silence. And it’s true that God is in those places, but not only in those places. What I am remembering during our isolation is that God is present in every moment, if we simply take the time to pay attention.
One of the philosophers that shaped my doctoral work is Slavoj Zizek. In his book The Fragile Absolute: Or Why The Christian Legacy Is Worth Fighting For, Zizek has a quote that has haunted me for years and it is certainly true, now more than ever. I want you to take a few moments and think about where you experience this reality in your own life,
“What is the Absolute? Something that appears to us in fleeting experiences- say, through the gentle smile of a beautiful woman, or even through the warm, caring smile of a person who may otherwise seem ugly and rude: in such miraculous but extremely fragile moments, another dimension transpires through our reality. As such, the Absolute is easily corroded; it slips all too easily through our fingers, and must be handled as carefully as a butterfly.”
There is a sacred possibility in each moment. But it is so incredibly easy to miss it when things are “normal”. Don’t let it slip through your fingers. My question for you on this day is pretty simple, where will you “run through the wet grass” and experience the fragility of the Christ’s Love?
Grace and Peace,