Though normalcy was never established, a new pattern emerged and things started to get into a new groove, awkward and painful that it was. I restarted my 1000 days of running and life began to settle.
However, my frustration with the theology department both students and professors, with pastors and religious people kept eating away at me. These were God’s representatives and frankly the vast majority of them were being fairly mean and smug about their superiority. How hollow this all felt had helped me give up on my belief systems. Truth was that I was finding more peace from day to day without thinking about that. Since life wasn’t suddenly easier and at least temporarily better without it, I assumed and decided that the lack of religion might well be the better way.
The college had a policy that if students had fulfilled their chapel requirements throughout their academic career that they were excused from it the last part of their senior year. I had done so, of course, and being excused from it was one of the best and worst things that ever happened to me.
And in the midst of this, an event occurred which still strikes me as how funny life is. I was driving out near the school and there was someone hitchhiking. I picked up the guy and he looked remarkably familiar; we glanced at each other both did a double take and then I said, “hold on, before anything else, what is your name man?” It was Jeff and it was the same environmental engineer I had picked up years before. We chitchatted and caught up like we were old friends; this time instead of being so smug about ministering to him, I was happier to listen. He had recently had his sleeping bag ruined and by coincidence I had a sleeping bag in my trunk and after I drove him to exactly where he had to go, I gave him the sleeping bag and spend the rest of the drive very intrigued by the coincidences of life.
Shannon and I were making progress with each other, remembering that there was a long standing connection both historically and emotionally. I started to realize that I had made some big mistakes, the hurt and anger were still deep and began to thaw but it was years away from being made right. I focused on the few friends from college that I still have, the ones who had been my friends through it all and had not suddenly decided they were too good to be friends with such a deep sinner as me. Friends who are not your friends when its not convenient were never actually your friends.
My mind was still a quagmire, trying to reconcile why, WHY had I thrown away a dream 15 years in the making that had been achieved. But I spent as much time distracting myself from that thought as I could. I started bringing my laptop to almost all my classes and was using it to play computer games in the back of the class. I started playing pool more and going out with friends to eat at Denny’s until 2 o’clock the morning. I kept focusing on the play, almost any distraction would do.
The other thing that happened then was that I was writing my senior Honors thesis. It was about God asking Abraham to kill Isaac. I looked at tons of different angles, the Christian one, the Muslim one, the Jewish one, Freud’s, Jung’s and various others. Then I presented my own: it may well have been projecting but my position was essentially that this story might be best interpreted as Abraham imagining something that God wanted wanted. The request appeared so unreasonable that I chose to think that it was Abraham who was unreasonable rather than God. The position was more complex and more elegant than this and I found that people in general were rather receptive to it but theology types were really bothered by it.
As my fatter, longer haired self started to get more at ease with life, I started to feel incredibly guilty about what I had done to Natalie. The conversations between us had stopped abruptly and not cleanly. I wrote a letter to her apologizing at length about all of the events that had occurred. The initial events were wrong enough but the handling it afterwards were just as bad with me even having taken back a piece of jewelry I had given her and given it Shannon. I believe she even saw Shannon wearing it once, Shannon’s own way of dealing with it. None of it from any of our angles was healthy. She never responded to the letter but I had hoped that it would be received well.
In the midst of all this, as the school year rounded out, an old friend called. Leandro Bizama, from high school, called to check on me. We had been in contact with each other throughout the crisis and he had been supportive and very kind and now he had an idea. He knew that my mind and approach was still in a dark place but he thought that maybe, just maybe there was still something there worth salvaging. He was going to be going to the Marshall Islands for two years as a missionary; specifically a high school teacher and the school needed another religion teacher and another English teacher, mine and Shannon’s degrees. I blew him off and told him it was a ridiculously stupid idea and that I was quite done with all this. Apparently over the next couple of weeks, he talked to Shannon a few times and sold her on the idea and she slowly and methodically started working on trying to get me to do it. Some of the people I talked to really liked the idea, they figured if I could succeed out there plus be a way for a couple of years, I would have re-earned my wings. Back in high school, our academy had put on a Jewish Seder. We had tried to replicate it as best as we could with the food and customs although we obviously violated one gigantic concept as we had the tables set up in the shape of a cross. Still, I did it all in earnest including taking in the bitter herbs in their entirety (most people passed them up after barely trying them). Not too long after the event, I completely lost my lunch all over the lobby. Leandro and Shannon cleaned it up for me and then each of them kind of sat with me and patted my back and tried to help me feel better. This attempt to get me to go to the Marshall Islands felt remarkably similar.
Eventually, they prevailed on me but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I said to myself and to several people at the time that I had failed God, my faith and the church and that I was going to the Marshall Islands to pay penance and then I was done. They pointed out the obvious fact that we weren’t Catholic and didn’t pay penance and I retorted that it sure felt like plenty of the people over the last few months. This was not the best frame of mind to go with but I always work best with a goal in my mind and set my mind to raising money for this project. I raised a couple of thousand dollars which was far more than more people ever raised for these projects. I’m not anything if not hardworking and not enthusiastic.
With that in my mind, I felt a little more at ease and so I started to look forward to being a missionary. I also took a speaking invitation to go do an evangelistic series down in Mexico shortly after graduation, a sermon late in the summer at the South Bay Adventist Church. But it was a mistake because I was now heading to graduate as a theology major, taking sermon invitations, and heading to be a missionary with faith being merely a functionary attribute, something that for the first time I gave more lip service to than I felt. Still I was not just abiding my time to graduate and move away from this place and to paying penance.