Evelyn MacDougall - June 28, 2018
I snored so loudly that I woke myself up.
Drool was actively falling onto my neck-pillow while on a bus passing through where the Alps jut across the meeting of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria’s borders. Cliffs and icy mountain tops softened to bright blue rivers and lush meadows – all thriving in the shadow of the summer solstice. I wondered to which languages the cows and goats would respond.
In the presence of such immense natural beauty, my drool wasn’t exactly what I wanted my seatmates or I to experience. However, I wouldn’t trade that puddle for the encounter I’d had the night before which I already exchanged for sleep. And I refuse to apologize for missing a couple hours of views on my seven hour bus ride.
Instead of resting for my early morning departure, I was out meeting an old friend and other students – whom he’d befriended in his master’s degree program – at a humble barbecue outside the city. I took him up in a heartbeat on this last-minute invite in place of other touristy plans I’d made. I was happy to drop them, almost irritated I previously thought they were a good way to spend my time. For a moment, it felt like the two of us were back in college, pulling people together whenever we could for no reason other than to just be together.
Go and be, whispered all of my cells.
Their backyard bumped up against the train tracks. The soft grass became speckled with fireflies who danced and delighted each of us. Our barefoot, long-haired host lit a fire which he maneuvered into coals right in the dirt. Young men and women from all different corners of our blue and green marble worked together to cut wood and construct a simple cooking platform with grates and stones in between sips of beer and teasing one another.
It was magnificently unassuming and gregarious.
I arrived empty handed, so I charmed and helped where I could (mostly just sharing my cell phone flashlight, flipping sausages, and asking people to share about their passions); and they generously invited me to taste their roasted chicken hearts, halloumi, and zucchini.
One guy explained to me the nuances of his research on the genetic gradation of a certain species of cricket and their evolutionary changes across the Pyrenees, curious what the DNA will reveal. Others shared what they admired about their professors and what worried them about what comes after graduation. We laughed at words thought to be quotidian, but turned out to be specific to our native tongue. We compared how to say, “I’m hung over” in all the languages we collectively knew. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Being fully present with them for a few sweet hours of twilight was entirely satisfying. We genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, though when I left I didn’t really feel the need to glean everyone’s contact information. It was time for me to begin the next leg of my journey, and for them to return to their studies. They will reconvene again, I’m sure, but I won’t be disappointed to miss it as long as I live out the spirit of that evening wherever I find myself next.
In the theme of fleeting moments, my old friend and I accidentally forgot to embrace for a farewell, because those metro doors open and shut so quickly! We both agreed afterwards that parting on a note of “see you later,” suits our relationship better than a drawn out subway goodbye.
In short, I’m trying to appreciate how ephemeral this specific evening was, because if that were instead the state of my life forever, I’d be sorely disappointed. A firefly in a jar. I rather desire to live my life in that frame of mind: being present, grateful, and magnanimous – for myself and others; as opposed to desiring a limited avenue of achieving idyllic desires. For example fetishizing barbecues in the outskirts of Munich. Or worse, venerating another damn tourist trap.
Wiping the drool from my face and letting my thoughts flow as naturally as that gooey saliva, I finally allowed myself to reflect on something that I put off from bothering me during the barbecue.
I’d made a mistake back home.
A mistake for which the loved one I’d hurt readily forgave me. I don’t want to go into the nitty-gritty of it, but basically I aggressively pressured someone very close to me do things as I would and on my timeline, not in his own way. It was not loving. It was not patient. It was not kind. It was controlling and selfish, and in that moment I outright failed to love him in the exact way I was telling him to love me.
This destructive flood of rash emotion encompassed both of us; and I fear if I continue in this way, one or both of us will drown before the rainbow shines and the dove delivers an olive branch.
It’s really been grating my heart that I said what I said. I am ashamed and regretting this expression of sentiments. I wish I could drop like subpar tourist plans. And I’m stuck not wanting to treat him this way, but also not knowing or being in practice of living and loving better. We both deserve better.
And yet he forgave me. How about that? So he’s obviously doing a better job at the agape thing than I realized, admittedly better than me too. It’s also evident that righteously rushing our relationship is not the embodiment of love we have for one another and constantly wondering what comes next is going to ruin what is now.
I see this offense as an action that stems from views seemingly hardwired into me. Views I’ve been working on stripping down in the last few years, but without better habits to immediately replace these old ones, I find myself still returning to them when I feel jostled, stressed, insecure.
We’re talking about old ways versus growing pains here, folks.
I can objectively sit back and identify that certain selfish behavior is not in line with who I want to be, and, with distance, it’s easier to say, “No, I don’t want to be that kind of girlfriend/daughter/friend/coworker who acts that way!” But I’m finding it difficult to quickly retrain the mind, body, and spirit to understand and react differently. My new strategy is to overcome smaller desires – being correct and secure and strong – with greater, more fulfilling, joy-inducing desires. Being fully alive and gracious and benevolent.
I’d rather be eating over-salted chicken hearts with strange, new friends than checking off another foreign city’s must-see site. Why can’t it also be so evident how I should give the right attention and affection to the people I say I love? To the ones I want to agape?
Ack, growing pains!
I’ll get there…eventually. For now, I’ll try to nurture the spirit within me as it needs, whether or not society prescribes behaving one way or the other or not at all. I’ll try to actively love the people I care about in ways that make them feel loved and not in ways that are self-serving to my anxieties.
The best gift we can give the world is the most fulfilled and joyful version of ourselves. I encourage you to pursue the desires that echo deep within. Feeding my spirit with experiences like this one abroad satisfies my desires in a way that allows me to better serve the needs of those I love. It reminds me to be open to living out my everyday life in a way that brings heaven to earth…without imploring God for a powerful and righteous flood.
How about that?
Cheers and peace,
Evelyn is a boardmember of Castle Church and one the founding members of our spiritual community. She's really dang smart.
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