The town I grew up in is quite a small community--during the summer months! When it's empty of students, it's a berg, of only about 10,000 people. The last several days, when I was there, it had only begun to re-fill--students coming back for activities, for greek rush, to move into their apartments and havetime to play before classes begin next week. Traffic backs up a little--think rush minute rather than rush hour!--, and parking places are harder to find. But the majority of students won't return until this next weekend, so the flavor of sleepy town lingers. Year-round residents love the feel of the place in the summer, even though most of their livelihoods depend on the extra 20,000 young adults who tip the scales of population, the preponderance of them living on College hill--making the geography tip to that corner of the square that is Pullman and its 4 hills.
When I go to Pullman during the school year, I assume that most of the people I see will be complete strangers, be of a certain demographic, will be self-involved. But in the summer, I always run into people I know, hear about people I had some kind of relationship with somewhere in my 52 years. This trip was no different. Though most of the people I grew up with left town after high school or college, some stayed. The Palouse was an enchanted place to grow up, even though we complained about how little there was to do, compared to more urban locales. But to run free as a child, to have all the advantages of a university--its athletics, its concerts, theater, facilities--is an attractive proposition. Our doors were never locked when I was young, there were few, if any, unsavory characters or 'other-side-of-the-tracks'. Sure, there was a street or two where rather dubious activities took place (Oddly, one such street was where the public swimming pool was located, where summer was rooted, at least for me and my friends, and though we were all aware of those junky houses, and hippies wandering in and out, I don't remember any fear associated with walking past them), but for the most part, Pullman was safe and good and the kind of home-town I wanted for my own children.
So some of my contemporaries stayed. My sister, for one. But classmates and aquaintances as well. While perusing Brused Books on Main street the other day, during a brief respite I had from the labors of the week, a man walked by, dropping off a bag of old plastic grocery bags. I recognized him immediately, as a boy I'd gone to middle school with. He'd been a good buddy of Beve's until he moved across the state-line to the east and went to our rival high-school. But he and I had been on work-crew together at Young Life's Malibu Club, and he'd led the worship at our wedding. He came back across the state-line in college, married and took up permanent residence on one of those hills. We had a nice chat in front of the counter of the used bookstore, him asking about Beve, our kids, and--unfortunately!--my writing. The proprietor of the store was more than a little enthralled on the other side of the counter once the subject of my 'book' came up. In fact, he put in his two--or twenty--cents worth about the wonders of being published. You'd think I walked on water just because I've put a sentence--or hundred-thousand--together in the last decade. It's not much to write home about from my point of view anymore. In truth, I'd rather go to the dentist than have to talk about it these days (and I know what I'm talking about because I went to the dentist this morning, and it was AWFUL! Just getting x-rayed put my gag-reflex into overtime, so had to have my entire mouth numbed. I have a cracked tooth all the way at the back of my tiny mouth, so I'll be going steady with both the dentist and the novacain in the next month.).
By the time I ambled out of the store, we'd caught up on twenty years of life, and I was aware of how small our community really is. He'd been in contact with other old friends, which is how he heard about my writing in the first place. I wonder what it'd feel like to be completely anonymous!
At a different store, my sister (who really does know practically every full-time resident) introduced me to the daughter of a teacher I'd had in middle school, a teached who'd also taught Sunday School at our church, served on committees with my parents. This daughter is retirement-age now, which I found really hard to believe, but I guess her mom would be in her late nineties, if she were still alive. Talking to this daughter, I felt ancient myself. Like an old dinesaur (or a three-year-old computer!).
But the next evening, when my cousin, who lives down the road from my sister, came down to RE's for pie, I felt young. Too young, really. We were talking about my mom, then an aunt whose husband just died, about women outliving their husbands. You know, really encouraging stuff. Then she told me about a couple in her church--a couple just about our age. The wife was on a mission-trip to South America last month when she received news that her husband had died in a car accident. He was on his way to a fairly new job, commuting an hour + from Pullman. "There were about a thousand people at his memorial," she said. "He worked for a long time at the Bookie." The Bookie? Hairs were standing up on my arms. "What was his name?" And when she told me, I gasped! I knew him. I'd gone to college with him and his wife down in Eugene, only a few years ago. It was only a few years ago, wasn't it? When we were young and immortal. His wife had lived in the same dorm I did, just across the hall from me, actually. He and I were both attendants in a wedding together during those years. And when they moved to Pullman, I saw him often at the Bookie, sat with her a few times while our kids took swimming lessons together at the pool. They were the ones who first coined the phrase, "rush minute" about the traffic, actually. When I use that term, I always think of them. And he was one of the nicest men. Seriously, a REALLY, REALLY good guy.
I remember having a conversation with him about, of all things, high cholestral a few years ago. We thought we were aging. All my friends think that. We're feeling aches and pains, and take medication for blood pressure or cholestral, or arthritis or all three. (Not me, but I'm just saying!) Yep, we're getting old. But when my cousin told me Mike had died, all I could think of was how young he was. How young we all are. And now his college-aged kids are fatherless, and his wife, a widow. At our age. And his life was like a rush minute, moving too quickly by.
I know that "Our times are in His hands." I believe this. I know that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones." And Mike, by all accounts, was a faithful one. A truly humane human. But what I'm thinking of today as I read the online articles about him is that his life was shorter than he'd guessed it would be, shorter than his wife dreamed. And it hurts, I'm sure. Grief is real and lasts a long time. I think this hits me hard this week because of Mom, who's outliving her life, if that makes sense. And from my point of view (as small as it is), Mike certainly hadn't. So here's the wrestling question of my day? How do I let go of my timeline for people and trust those words I say I believe. Those words about God's sovereignty and His perfect, good, acceptable plan? It's not easy to trust God about these things. Not when it comes down to life and death and those I love. My father, though a decade older than Mike when he died, was taken too soon, yet Mom lingers in a twilight she doesn't understand.
And yet I will trust Him. If you think I'm saying this lightly or tritely, think again. It's a flesh and Spirit struggle to be honest and True. But, in the end (and the middle, actually), I put on Christ, put on trust from the outside-in, until my spirit catches up and trusts from the inside-out.