Where This Meets That
This weekend, the night sky will grace eyes with an occurrence known as a “supermoon.” This event is caused when a full moon coincides with the moon’s closest pass to Earth, making the moon appear larger than normal.
July twenty years ago, beneath a full moon in a back yard in Lithonia, Georgia, my life changed.
I was living in a beer commercial with one of my closest friends on a road leading to waste. It had been my first year making a go of it in the “real world” without ambition of further pursuing my college degree.
By “making a go of it,” I mean working as a full-time janitor and stock worker at a local department store. And by “real world,” I mean that each day, as I’d punch out on the clock at work, I would also punch out on reality. I would return to my rented home, where I would inebriate myself by any of several means and pseudo-intellectualize with friends for hours before the tube.
My hobbies were neither complex nor productive, but they were expensive – in the end, more expensive than my meager job could afford, and I found myself in significant debt. Alienated from my parents, unchallenged at work, and unbalanced in my recreation, the “real world” was festering. I could feel it looming, utterly unwelcome at my party and yet ultimately unavoidable.
In parallel, my relationship with God grew parched. He seemed to have evaporated. I was never an “atheist” per se, but the summer of 1994 found me drifting inexorably in that direction.
The all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal and all-good God of my youth was fast revealing himself as irrelevant at best, perhaps altogether fraudulent. As it turns out, “God” becomes preposterous once you’ve hid him behind the world. Funny how if you look at even the smallest thing closely enough it can block out everything else.
One night, my friend and I shared a bottle of Snakebite whiskey on our deck and mused about where we envisioned ourselves ten years in the future. My friend, with his wonderful girlfriend present and reputable college degree well underway, saw good things.
I foresaw nothing. Instead, I sensed a close, black horizon. I grimly realized that I couldn’t even imagine being alive a decade out.
I masked my void until my friends retired inside. Then, sitting in my chair, I crumbled, sobbing in the black night. And I know in that moment that I prayed.
Some minutes later, I raised my head to the sky to blink away tears and noticed the full moon. It hung there like a bright ball and captured me in a trance. It momentarily stole away my tears and drew me down the steps of the deck and into the middle of our back yard, where I promptly fell to my knees and cried prayers from a deep well.
There, with me on my knees in the grass and my unblinking eyes locked on the moon, peace came. I can’t say when, I can’t say for how long, but all my trivial attempts to define and dispute God vanished as nothingness. My mind stopped, locked profoundly in the moment.
Some time later, I heard the back door to our house open then close. Either my friend or his girlfriend looking for me on the deck. In that moment, my attention came back to my world, and I was left with a gift. In that moment, I realized that my peace had come in an embrace. I recognized it only as I felt its release, in a physical feeling of arms pulling away.
I was astounded. Just like that, my doubts were erased. God was indeed all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good . . . all kinds of things. But more than that, he was personal.
Immediately after it happened, it probably took me a half hour of blubbering and babbling before I finished trying to explain what I’d experienced to my friend’s girlfriend (my friend had fallen asleep). As days passed, what struck me most was how natural the embrace had come. Like breathing. I hadn’t even noticed it until it had passed, until the arms withdrew.
In the weeks and months that followed, mercy was everywhere.
My parents welcomed me home and helped me back on my feet. My former landlords (and 2nd parents) worked out a repayment plan (I’d stopped paying rent at some point). I re-started classes at the local community college.
One beautiful, fateful day the following year, I was offered a management position at the pizza joint where I’d just begun working and also received an acceptance letter to LaGrange College. When I told the owners of the pizza joint about my dilemma (to try to thrive as a pizza joint manager or to go back to school), they said, “Well, that’s easy: you gotta go back to school. You can manage this place when you’re home.”
In 2004, I shared my story with a dear coworker. As I finished, I realized that ten years had passed since that remarkable night. Ten years had passed since the night I couldn’t imagine being alive ten years later.
Reflecting on the decade past, I quickly lost count of the blessings the years had produced. After graduating from LaGrange College, I had married my soul mate, Christy, and found a job. Christy soon blessed me with a son. We bought a house and grew into a wonderful larger spiritual community at a local Catholic church. I got a better job. Christy blessed me with a daughter. And on.
Before I had known it, ten years had passed. Ten years had embraced. Ten years had made me more alive than I’d ever been.
Now, another decade rich with blessings of new children and deepening love of their embraces leaves me all the more astounded, all the more alive. As I look up to the full moon in this weekend’s sky, I do so with a heart grateful for a tender embrace and thank God for blessings as countless as the stars.
Truly, July twenty years ago, beneath a full moon in a back yard in Lithonia, Georgia, my life changed.