Epiphany and Where the Sidewalk Ends

After I graduated high school I did a brief stint of community college. I decided to major in “Liberal Studies” because I figured all I needed was general education/transferable credits anyway. One of the required classes on this vague track was statistics.

Now typically, I do words not numbers, you know? But I had always done well in school. Learning came easy. I wasn’t the top of my class, but I was closer to the top than not. I never started a project prior to the weekend before it was due. Never studied unless I was cramming for a specific test the following day. Comprehensive finals-type tests I didn’t study for at all. Too much work! I figured if I didn’t understand the material by then I probably wouldn’t ever understand it. I pulled mostly A’s and B’s, so it never occurred to me that there was anything lacking in my methodology.

Enter community college statistics.

The first half of the semester was breezy. I’d come in late with a latte, skip the optional homework, and still do well on the tests. Friends invited me to join their study group and I halfheartedly showed up for a couple meetings. As someone who got it, I felt a certain sense of responsibility for the poor people who just didn’t get it. Bless their hearts.

Then the second half of the semester happened. With painful clarity I realized I had reached my math threshold. Nothing made sense anymore. It was (literally) Greek to me.

So what did I do? Double down and dig deep? Lean into the study group I had deigned to join? Spend countless hours in the math lab taking advantage of free tutoring resources?

Nope.

I quit going to class. My attitude was such that if I couldn’t understand it, then it was obviously stupid. Statistics was the problem, not me. I mean, my methods had carried me this far with decent results. I couldn’t possibly be the problem. Anyway, I do words not numbers.

I showed up for the final. I don’t even know why I went. I slammed through the first half of it, and then left most of the second half blank. I was the first to leave, and I felt the daggers shot in my back by the eyes of my long-abandoned study group.

Guess what? I failed. Shocking, I know.

Apparently in math, if statistics can even be called that, getting 100% on the first half of your final and 0% on the second half averages you out to a big fat F. I don’t know, like I said statistics wasn’t exactly my thing. I ended up with a D in the class. In my entire, albeit short (Hello, Marsden babies!), stint with higher education it was the only class I didn’t pass.

I rode the Easy Street trolley to the end of the line. My natural ability got me to where the sidewalk ends and when I reached it, I stopped.

This is where I find myself once again in 2017: at the end of the pavement staring out at the wilderness of not knowing how to do the thing I need to do. I’m not even sure where to start. Starting is so hard. The pavement behind calls to me. It whispers sweet things to draw me back to the comfort of feeling confident and capable. You are perfect just as you are. This is just your personality; you’re an enneagram Five who prefers to live in her head. You don’t have to strive. You don’t have to stress. You don’t have to try. Just be content in being here. All is grace.

Damn this convincing concrete! It keeps my feet planted with no allowance for roots. These gnarled roots of mine seek deeper things, continue to push at the pavement, twisting over myself trying to tap a source beneath practical platitudes.

I can grow no taller here.

Here where I’m mixing my metaphors of trolleys and trees. Or maybe I’m not. Aren’t we all walking trees? Deeply rooted and ever called-out to follow beyond the brink of the known, believing there is something worth pursuing.

Like a star. Like Epiphany. Like the three wise men who gathered their collected wisdom and their understanding drove them into the wilderness in hot pursuit of celestial satisfaction. If these Fives can strike out in search of kingdom-come, surely my boots can inch away from this crumbling concrete. I, who live my life in the presence of the One they sought. They brought Him gifts fit for royalty and He gave everything for me. Even I can grasp this simple math: I am gratuitously provided for.

The end of the line is the end of me.

I’ve been told the end of me is the beginning of Him.

That’s just another Instagram meme of a statement, though. It’s meant to make me less insecure, but He’s just as with me now and He was at the beginning and He is in the middle. There is no space without Immanuel; God with us. I’ve been balancing on the edge waiting for Him to “show up big.” Maybe He’s been here with me all along waiting for me to do the same. Dallas Willard taught me that grace is opposed to earning, not effort. I’ve never been much of a doer. I’m more of a don’t-er, an observer.

2016 had me watching from a safe distance, but 2017 calls to me: Come.

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

—Isaiah 55:1-3

He says not to labor for things that don’t satisfy, but in saying so doesn’t he imply that there is labor required for things that do satisfy? Aslan is on the move. And so am I.

The last final I took at community college was for an elective I had chosen: Early British Literature. For the essay portion of the exam I wrote a stuffy piece with a supercilious title. I don’t remember much about it except that the professor told me it was well written, but didn’t add much to the conversation. I didn’t get what she meant. I gave her all the right answers, regurgitated and spliced her lectures together into something I figured was “academic.” Looking back, I wonder if she meant I was the missing thing. I told her what I thought she wanted to hear, but maybe what she wanted was to hear from me.

I remember walking out of that dusty classroom, tucked down a dark corner hallway in the English department, and stepping blinking out into bright California sunlight. Exultant with the freedom of summer I inwardly exclaim, “Thank God that was the last essay I’ll ever have to write!”

epiphany-and-where-the-sidewalk-ends

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5 Comments

  1. Tim

    The Hobbit is an adventure in its own telling, but gives a lot of information that comes up later in LOTR. I like LOTR better, but when I reread Tolkien I often start with Hobbit and then go on to the trilogy. You could skip it and go straight to LOTR and enjoy it immensely.

  2. Tim

    “Aren’t we all walking trees?”

    So you’re saying you’re an Ent? Ents like tradition and the old ways, staying with what they know. And what they know they know well. But when Ents finally decide they need to move, they are determined to do what needs doing. I think that’s what you say you are discovering about yourself here, isn’t it?

    So be an Ent. What could it hurt?

    • Aleah

      Had to wiki “Ent” (haven’t ever read Tolkein. Crazy, right?), but LOVE this picture so much! Thanks for sharing. I’ll be returning to this vision, I’m sure.

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