Today was Holy Saturday.
As I sat on a park bench, preparing to write, an elderly woman wearing enormous white sunglasses and carrying a can of Del Monte Canned Spinach and a loaf of bread approached me and asked if she could sit next to me. I said sure. She sat there, eating her bread and spinach for a while, until eventually I struck up what would be a three-hour conversation on nearly everything. It’s incredible how personal you can get with complete strangers.
Eventually, as the sun was setting, we came around to the topic of the Church. When I asked her if she practiced any religion or considered herself a spiritual person, her answer was this:
“No, not really. I’m a bit of a lost and lonely soul, really.” She then went on to explain why she felt that way: a combination of spiritual confusion, disillusionment with the hypocrisy of organized religion, and decidedly conflicted thoughts on Church and marriage.
Though she admitted to me that she herself had never been married in her 70-ish(?) years, she had a lot of thoughts on this particular subject. “Even if I knew what marriage really was, I don’t know if I’d want it.” I asked her to explain. She then told me that she witnessed several friends and family members demonized by the Church for their sexual orientation. She then talked about how other marriages she saw were abusive and unhealthy. She saw even the most loving, committed, healthy relationships end without much ceremony. Not to mention her friend who had a seemingly perfect marriage, but when asked about it, all she said was that “marriage can be really, really lonely.” She sighed at that point. “And that–that was terribly sad to me. So, I don’t know. I don’t really know what it means. But I still have hope. I could still get married.”
Before I could think of what to say next, she told me that it was time for her to get home to Chicago. My last question of her was her name: Diane (her name has been changed for privacy). I told her it was lovely to meet her, waved, and walked away, slightly dazed. And so my conversation with Diane ended as abruptly as it began.
As I walked home, and as I sit on my couch now, typing this, I’m struck by how beautiful and raw our conversation was, and, given the fact that I’ll probably never see Diane again, how fleeting. It was such a wonderful conversation, and Diane seems like such kind soul. But if I’m honest…when I was walking home, thinking about our conversation, I felt inexplicably sad.
Because today, what I heard in her story and in her friends’ stories echoes in my own life and in the lives of everyone I’ve ever met in this world: longing.
For Diane and her friends and for many of us, that longing is intimacy and love. So, like them, we seek it out in marriage or relationships or even just sex. For some, the longing is to be accepted. So we seek it out in retweets, in buying trendy clothes, in intelligent comments. For others, the longing is security and success–we think we find it in 401Ks, in job titles, in flashing lights. We all have longings. We all want these good things. But they’re always out of reach. We always want just a tiny bit more. And no matter how many times we’re disappointed, no matter how much pain and brokenness we feel and witness in our pursuit of these things, we hold out hope that, one day, we will have the things for which we long in all their fullness.
Again, I ask, why? Why do we so stubbornly cling to hope?
Because in the cavernous depths of our humanity, we all know that hope is real–and it is real! There is a single answer to these longings, a final chapter where everything wonderful happens and everything bad that ever happened becomes untrue. But for now, we must linger here, in taxes and death and every other hard thing that is so very inevitable and terribly sad.
For now, we are in the in-between.
So we keep searching for something–whether that thing is love or money or pleasure or God Himself–in this space between total hopelessness and total realization of that hope. We exist there. It’s not just today, Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday where Jesus died on the cross and no one on earth knew how anything was ever going to be good again. No, this in-between, it’s our every day of our lives until Jesus returns, walking the line between death and resurrected life.
We’re all (as Diane put it) lost and lonely souls. Wanderers, if you will.
That’s why you can feel like a failure even with a great job, why you can feel like an outsider in the middle of a crowd of friends, why the body of the Church is a collage of broken bones at best. Why you can feel alone and unknown even the best of marriages. Why I can walk away from getting to know a perfectly wonderful stranger and talk about art and life and beauty and still feel sad. No earthly thing will ever be enough for us, not while we exist in this in-between space.
We must wait, just a little longer, for sunrise.