Dylan hasn't figured out what to do with his life. He's 25. With a little prompting from me, however, he does know what I usually order for lunch.
"I got that," he says. "I'll remember next time." He hurries off to fill the order: a slice of cheese pizza, salad, no croutons, ranch dressing, and unsweetened ice tea.
When he brought my tea, I looked up at him. My little snippet of conversation with him made me realize he wasn't just an appendage to the menu, that an actual person was standing in front of me, an image of God. Wow. I looked at Dylan, squinted my eyes, and tried to imagine that imprint of divinity on his wrinkled black shirt, but it was elusive.
"So, how are you," I said. He allowed as to how he was fine. He asked about me, and I said I was fine, too. That's good. We're both fine. Everybody is just fine. The whole world is fine. But not really. Of course, whenever anyone honestly answers that question we shy away, are in a hurry all of a sudden, answer our cell phone, or make for the door. Danger, we think. Needy person ahead. But Dylan is fine, today anyway. We've got that out of the way.
He returns with my salad. "Here you go."
There he is, a real person.
"You know Frank?," he says.
"Sure, I know Frank. I've been coming here for years. Where is he, anyway?"
"He's been taking some time off, something to do with his hands."
"I hope he's ok."
"Oh sure, he's fine."
I look down at my salad. Dylan leaves.
Ach. Humans, I think. What to say. How to relate. I think about the book I've been reading with my community group from church about how postmoderns come to faith. Dylan is a postmodern, though he may not know the term. He's in process, struggling, trying to belong, to find his place. I wonder how I can bring up spiritual things. I think about some of the questions suggested in the book, like "what do you think is the meaning of life," or "are you interested in spiritual things," but listening to them in my head they just sound awkward. I eat salad, study a sugar packet’s fine print.
"Here's your pizza. Care for some bread?"
"Nope, trying to watch my figure." He turns to leave. "Hey, Dylan, is this your only job?" Lame, but I was trying.
“Yeah. Well, I was studying Computer IT in college, but I dropped out. I don’t know what I want to do. I used to sell computers out of my parents’ garage.”
“Well, it sometimes takes a while to figure out what you want to do, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, you got that right.”
I guess I could have invited more, like asking him how you go about figuring out what to do with your life. And maybe I will. Next time.
But wait. Part of what I am feeling in this encounter with Dylan is the need to “do evangelism.” In a recent article in Critique, John Seel suggests that this way of doing evangelism is counterproductive among millennials, that a better picture is one of “shared pilgrimage,” of coming alongside someone and making a meaningful connection rather than giving the sense that we have already arrived and are just calling them to come aboard. In the article, Seel says that Millennials are often “haunted by the possibility of an unseen spiritual world,” and he suggests several onramps to that spiritual longing.
All to say, Dylan is not fine, and neither am I. But perhaps we can talk about that, next time. Maybe that’s an onramp to eternity.