MercyMe's "Dear Younger Me" came on the radio late one night this week while I was driving and it made me think. It's a song about someone who wonders what he'd say if he had a chance to talk to a younger version himself.
It made me wonder the same thing. Several things came to mind.
I'd tell myself to stop waiting. Stop waiting for the girl. Stop waiting for the right job. Stop waiting for people to call. Then I'd tell my younger self to act instead, and accept what's in front of me.
I'd also tell myself that time moves quickly, so you have to step into each moment and be fully present because it seems like one minute, you are 22 years old and the next, you are 52. The music you are listening to will be on the classics station, the movies you love will be remade, and some of your friends will move on.
Finally, I'd tell myself to never take good health for granted because there's coming a time when I won't always have it. I guess I'd also tell myself not to play in that church softball game on July 15, 1997, because you'll get injured and you'll spend the rest of your life working around that injury.
How about you? If you had a chance to talk to a younger version of yourself, what would you say?
I set the bottle of water on the front desk at the gym.
“That’ll be $2.00, Lee.”
I’d never had a conversation with the woman behind the counter, so I was surprised when she used my name. But she’d just scanned my membership card five minutes prior, so I figured that’s how she knew it.
“How’d you know my name?”
“You’re in here pretty often.”
“Not for a while. I’ve been helping to take care of my mom on the other side of town.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s wrong with her?”
She went on to ask how old my mom was doing, and how long the doctors thought she’d be down—all of which are questions that went above and beyond simple pleasantries. Then she wished her a speedy recovery.
It gave me a temporary pep in my step when I climbed onto the treadmill.
As an introvert, I’m skeptical of small talk with strangers, especially in a setting like this. Small talk doesn’t come easy for me and I’m always thinking the business is working the engage-in-enough-small-talk-and-the-customer-will-believe-we-care angle, rather than actually caring.
But not this time.
This time, I put myself out there a little bit—offering a little personal information, and it was worth it.
I’m also pretty skeptical of small talk in social situations.
If a real estate agent approaches me at a party and strikes up a conversation, I’m always waiting for him or her to try to close the deal and offer me his or her card.
I attended a party once where a woman was wearing a button that said something like, “I lost 78 pounds. Ask me how.” I’d sooner try to swim the English Channel than ask such a question, knowing I’d just open the door to listen to a five-minute spiel about one program or another that she would be sure to receive kickback for if I signed up. Sure enough, somebody else took the bait and I tuned out when the spiel began.
I should say I also have a crunchy feeling about being a regular. On one hand, I like the comforting feeling of familiarity. On the other hand, I often wonder what the other person is thinking.
I hit a coffee shop drive-thru by my house once in a while. More times than not, I get the same barista who, while she isn’t big on small talk, knows I don’t want a straw or a lid on my skinny white mocha blender (Frappuccino, for those of you who prefer Starbucks). So she hands my coffee out the window without the straw or lid, no questions asked.
The first time she did that, I was amazed that she remembered me. I know, I know. Baristas are supposed to remember regulars. But it’s surprising how much being remembered in such a small way means so much. Maybe it’s because I’m accustomed to feeling invisible. I’m not complaining about that. I prefer to remain in the shadows.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make genuine connections. It just means I’m a bit guarded as I venture out. Part of that is my personality. Part of that is my experience. And part of that is my weight. But none of these things stops me from living. And as I do, I’m often pleasantly surprised by others who also want to connect in small ways.
Do you have one of those friends who trades book recommendations with you? I usually meet with a friend for lunch once a week and invariably, our discussions end up in text messages afterward.
This past week, we talked about Francis Schaeffer's work, so my buddy texted me several book recommendations by Schaeffer:
He recommended that I start with “True Spirituality,” saying it’s Schaeffer’s foundational book. I’m planning to do just that.
Early in my Christian life, I read a couple of Schaeffer’s books: A Christian Manifesto, and Art and the Bible. But I really do need to read more from him, especially all these years later, so I was glad for the prompting. Truth Spirituality just moved to the top of my TBR pile.
I just started reading Packing Light: Thoughts on Living with Less Baggage by Allison Fallon. It’s too early to know if I’ll recommend it to my buddy. But I have to say, I love the notion of reading books in community, knowing that whatever we glean, we’ll be able to discuss them with each other.
Jessica Meuse played a show at the Omaha Summer Arts Festival a couple of weeks ago. She closed with her song called “Done.” I shot this video, which will show you why I’m a writer and not a videographer.
But it’ll also show you something else.
Partway through the performance, Meuse’s band gets lost in the music. Her drummer drops his head and just goes with the flow. A minute or so later, her keyboard player begins to pound the keys like he’s trying to extract every ounce of music out of them. Then her guitar player takes the lead and massages the song, which leads beautifully back into Meuse’s closing vocals.
It’s music the way it’s supposed to be played—passionately and patiently.
On the way home from the Write-to-Publish writer’s conference in Chicago last week, I decided to skip the toll roads in favor of the backroads, at least for the first hundred miles.
As I headed west on Illinois State Highway 30 (a two-lane highway), I went through a small town called Hinkley where I saw a sign for a city called Sandwich that was nine miles off the beaten path. According to the city’s website, “Sandwich is proud to be the home of the Sandwich Fair. Held every year since 1889, it is the oldest continuing county fair in the State of Illinois!” These people are serious about sandwiches. It sort of made me hungry, even though it was only 10:00 a.m.
While in Hinkley, I spotted a place called Dairy Joy—a drive-in. If you click on their website and view the gallery, you’ll see all sorts of photos that will make you wish you could visit: smiling kids with messy faces, smiling adults and shots of the surrounding area that include the main street that has been decorated with American flags.
As I continued west, the railroad had stacked ties next to the set of train tracks that ran parallel to the highway. Apparently, they were planning to replace some rotting ties so trains could continue to run through the area for many years to come. That’s not a sight I would’ve seen if I’d taken the toll road.
Waterman, Illinois was next. It, too, welcomed me with American flags hanging proudly on light poles that hung out over the highway. I passed Houlahan’s Tavern & Grill. I love the fact that we live in the age when places like Dairy Joy and Houlahan’s have websites that allow us to learn more about them, even if we don’t stop.
A quick look at Houlahan’s website (after I arrived home safely, of course) reveals that they are hiring a bartender, a part-time cook and a server. The site also has a customer gallery showing an elderly man signing karaoke, a golf foursome with gigantic eyeglasses and clown noses, a man all decked out in Chicago Bears gear and lots of people laughing.
As I approached Shabonna, Illinois (population 950), it was hard to miss the cell towers. They felt so out of place between the small towns and so much farmland. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like the perfect balance. It was quiet out there. Peaceful. But the cell towers allow those who choose to live in such an environment to stay in touch. The older I get, the more I crave living near such a place.
A Wisted’s Supermarket appeared. Its Facebook page shows a photo of a piece of cake described this way: “Mom just Made her Apple Walnut Cake and she chose to frost it with a Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercreme - Yummmmy! Stop by and pick up several for dessert.” If the description doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will. And the picture might just make you jump in the car and make the trip yourself.
I almost missed a little pizza place call Chumly’s. It resembles a house. According to Yelp, it’s a favorite among campers who frequent the area. One camper vowed to make it his Friday night dinner stop every time he was in the area. Another woman said she and her husband order pizza every Friday they camp in the area, noting that they deliver to the campsite.
As I was between towns on this lonesome highway, sometimes without a car in sight, it brought a sense of peace to my soul, giving me time to think.
I passed a couple of small cemeteries – one of which probably had a hundred or fewer graves – and I wondered about all of the stories that were buried there. How did all of these people end up in this area? What had they committed their lives to? What sort of secrets did they take to their graves? How often do loved ones visit?
A small cutout appeared on my right, leading to a rest stop that only contained a couple of picnic tables, reminding me of my youth when my grandparents used to take my sister and me to Arkansas using two-lane highways rather than interstates. Grandma used to pack lunches and we’d stop at places just like this one to enjoy them. At that moment, I wished she were still alive so she could see that places like this still exist.
You forget about such things when you’re always in a hurry to get everywhere. Slowing down to observe for a while brings it all back. Of course, not everything is worthy of sentiment. I passed one place that appeared to be a candy store that I later found out was a strip club.
As I drew closer to Interstate 88 – maybe twenty miles away – a small stretch of rundown businesses appeared. In fact, they looked like they had been closed for some time. I envisioned the business owners turning off the lights and padlocking the doors on their final day. And then walking in solitude to their vehicle without a single person even noticing that their hearts were breaking, or that their minds were clouded with grief. So many dreams die in silence.
An older man to my left stood outside his red pickup truck with his arms draped over a small bridge as he stared down into what I assumed to be a small stream. Was he one of those business owners?
I passed a man on a riding lawnmower. His long flowing hair was graying, and he was sporting the torso of Hercules. He couldn’t have been tanner if he’d tried.
Garmina – the name I’ve assigned to my GPS – alerted me that I-88 was near. I was both happy and sad. Happy because I could get home sooner. Sad because I’d be leaving it all behind.