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April 2013

My Little Mid-Life Crisis

I recently bought my daughter a cool blue 2005 Mini Cooper SE Convertible. It's hot.  Really hot.  When she leaves for college in August, I'm going to drive it.  Yes I am.  I've been thinking about this: I want to practice jumping in the drivers seat and screeching out without opening the door.  I've seen it done in the movies.  It may be anatomically difficult, and I may injure myself, perhaps irreparably, but it goes with the turf.  You see, I gotta get myself a little mid-life crisis.

My crisis is I never had a mid-life crisis, and I wonder what I'm missing.  Clothes? Same old, same old. Hair? Less.  Same house, same job, same church, same wife (yes, honey) and so on.  But I love all those things.  What to do?  I figure I can kick-start the process with a supped up car.  Right?

It takes me back, way back.  My first car was the gold '72 Camaro I bought in 1974.  Oh yeah.  I went right from dirt bike to a "What you got under that hood a 350 V-8?" Camaro. And I was dangerous.  I'd crank up the 8-Track of Led Zeppelin and let it go.  The night I turned 16 my friend (who was a whopping three months older and had his license) and I drove all night over four counties.  Just because we could.  9 mpg.  Gas at $.32.  So, I guess I had my mid-life crisis at 16.

I want to drive top down.  Play Fountains of Wayne.  Get an attitude.  Drive between the pumps at gas stations.  Parallel park in spaces the size of my inbox.  Connect.  Chat with the drivers at stoplights. Wear 24/7 sunglasses. Out there.  You gotta get out there.  Try out extroversion, see if it's all they say it is. Stop listening to myself think all the time.  Play "Traffic and Weather," by Fountains of Wayne, with their frothy attitude and roadside hipness.  Turn it up.

When my daughter leaves home, I'll cruise the high school lots, hang out in her favorite coffee-shop, trace her absence all over the place.  Even listen to her music.  The Blend.  Sirius 20 on 20.  Summon up her smile, her wit, and her 18-year old life in the present tense.  Existential.

I'll drive her car to work, to lunch, to get ice cream, to the mall, to church.  I'll hang out in parking lots.  I'll do nothing.  I'll post statuses like "what's up i'm in my car eating at taco bell how about you?" or send pithy or inane or innocuous 140 character text messages to other people who like to send 140 character text messages.  Because that's just how they do it.  Stay connected.  Watch YouTube silly videos, because she did.  Drive just to drive and on cool nights leave the top down and turn the heat up high.  I'll drive downtown and think of all the conversations we had and all the things "dad you don't understand" and the accomplishment of getting her to laugh at a dumb joke and her hair blowing in the wind.  The same wind that blows across her midwest college town.  The same wind.

And about October, when it's too much, I'll hit I-40 and head due west, her mother and I, queue up a playlist of oh about 400 of my favorite songs, and watch the miles pass.  24 hours.  16 to 17 songs per hour.  400 songs.  Lots of sun and wind and particulate matter.  Truckers butting each other to establish dominance, says Bruce Cockburn.  Rumours of Glory.  Plenty of time.  Tick off the states --- Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri --- and cross the "miss the mississippi and you" and somewhere out on those Great Plains, amongst the tallgrass and wobbly cowboys, east of the Pecos and West of the Ozarks, I'll find her.

Nope.  Nope.  Probably just stay right here.  Drive her Mini.  Touch up our empty nest.  Practice the rest of life.  Decorate her absence with memory.  Write letters.  Read melancholy poetry.  Wash the Mini.  Pray hard.  Live life.  Let go.

And miss her.

I'll miss her.

And when Christmas comes and she returns, soaked in independence, with new vocabulary and a midwest-tinged plain-speak, with stored up life that I missed because she was there and we were here. . . well, so she can have the Mini SE Convertible back, because it suits her and I'm tired of being beat to death by the wind and riding on the ground, numb in my posterior.  I had my little mid-life crisis.  I'll be over it.  But I'll never, never get over her.  I won't. We're like "traffic and weather."  We just go together.


In Memoriam: Edith Schaeffer, 1914-2013

EdithI did not really know Edith Schaeffer, having never resided at L'Abri, the residential Christian study center that she and husband Francis Schaeffer started in the Swiss Alps in 1955. I did, however, meet her on two occasions. 

Once, in 1992, I attended a L'Abri conference in Rochester, Minnesota, her then home. She gave a rambling talk at the conference, the subject of which I have forgotten, remembered like a verbal abstract painting, I thought, wonderfully passionate and yet not fully connected. A youthful, late Seventies Edith was signing copies of her books afterward, and when I approached her she was alone, amazingly enough, as a throng had been around her most of the time. But it would not have mattered. Others have remarked on how warm and personable she is, and that proved true. In that moment, at least, Edith was genuinely interested in me, smiling, asking about my family and my interests, as if I was the only one in the room, drawing the Alps on a whole page of my copy of L'Abri (her story of that place), signing it to my whole family. She never looked impatient or concerned about the next person in line. It was only me. She was a model of the kind of dead on attention I would hope to give (and yet seldom give) to those I meet and talk with.  She embodied hospitality.  

My next meeting with Edith occurred about 14 years later, in 2006, when Edith was about 92. My business and wirting partner Kevin and I were in Gryon, Switzerland, where Edith lived under the care of her youngest daughter, Debbie, and husband, Udo Middleman. We were to interview Edith for an audio biography we planned.  Edith arrived under her own steam, well-dressed, as always, smiling, helped by two Swiss hiking poles but otherwise providing her own locomotion. Sitting down with her inside, talking with her, it was obvious that she did not have a full memory, as some answers were prompted or supplied by Debbie, but her eyes were alert, her voice strong, and she remembered fondly the times when her kitchen work was complete and she sat near the woodstove and listened to the provocative discussions led by her husband.  I suspect that this tireless woman was glad to finally sit down.

Whatever else the Schaeffers did at L'Abri (and much was done there), it began when they opened the door of their home and of their hearts to people from all walks of life, inviting them into their lives, sharing what little they had with them, and offering them friendship and a place where any question could be asked.  Through their words and example, many came to know Jesus.  Some were unconvinced.  And yet virtually all would have to admire their integrity.  They lived what they taught. I have been told that Edith would often be on her knees cleaning the kitchen floor at 3:00 AM, or preparing meals for new arrivals at that hour, and that the Schaeffers were often up late writing personal letters to those who inquired of them, studying, or praying.

Though others knew her far better than I, still I will miss her.  She taught me to pray in pictures, imagining the answer.  She inspired me to be creative in even the most mundane of endeavours.  She made concrete a conviction of God's providence, as I read of the tapestry that God was at work weaving in her life.  Would that I had such a heart for people, such an open door to the lost and searching. 

Rest with Christ, Edith.  Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter God's peace.