I didn’t know that I was looking for something, until I realized that I hadn’t found it. As I found myself in a new, unfamiliar wing of the building I lived in for four years, it sank in to my heart: you can’t go back. I have always felt that time travel is not possible because a point in time is not a place that can be visited. Never has this felt more true than in my trip back to the Coast Guard Academy for my twenty-year reunion. Places change and so do people. You can go to a place, but it will never be the same as it was at a certain point in time. You simply can’t recapture a time or a feeling.
The chorus of a Miranda Lambert song kept playing in my mind: “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it / This brokenness inside me might start healing / Out here it’s like I’m someone else / I thought that maybe I could find myself.” Until I was there, I didn’t understand how much my heart ached for that time when life was simpler. Life wasn’t easy, but I knew what I was doing and where I was going. At least, I thought I knew where my life was going. I hadn’t let myself down, yet. Perhaps it is true that ignorance is bliss, which is not to say that it was a blissful chapter of my life. It was difficult, and I was not emotionally stable. But for four years, I knew with certainty that I was where God wanted me, and I felt like I belonged there.
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened-not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
2 Corinthians 5:2-4
There is a novelty to seeing people and places after a long time away. After I figured out that nothing was the same, I realized that the only things that hadn’t changed were my own flaws and insecurities. I felt just as stupid and talkative as ever, but I have much less in common with my classmates after twenty years. While they talked about children, common duty stations, and decisions about retiring from the Coast Guard, I had nothing to contribute. Past the ‘where are you living’ and ‘what are you doing,’ I had only nonsense and stupidity, along with that haunting old feeling that I have wasted my life.
I long to be back in a place where I feel that sense of belonging and the fellowship of common struggle and purpose. I have a best friend, who I have often thought is the only person not related to me to know me well and love me anyway. I was so blessed to spend time with her and her family. Yet I found that perhaps in her love for me, she had forgotten my faults and short-comings. Perhaps my biggest flaw is that I don’t seem to forget, the way others do. My good memory is not a blessing, as I suspect it often prevents me from showing grace to others, as I ought to. At the same time, this strong desire within me to be known, is crushed to find that there is so much that other people don’t remember. It is a reminder of how insignificant my life really is, in the scheme of things.
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
My conclusion is one that I have come to before: only God really knows me and He alone has walked beside me through it all. It is a lonely thought-sad, but hopeful and comforting. I can’t fail to note that my family has stood by me through everything, and I am so blessed. But, only God can fill these longings and the emptiness that I somehow thought would be assuaged by going back and connecting with the past. The past couldn’t be found at the Coast Guard Academy. All that was there was the present, with so many glaring faults. I suppose it is only right that no one is preserving the past in a way that would please me. Nothing in the world can stand still. The past is only in my mind, and that record is tainted by my own perceptions and emotions.
For the most part, I am glad that I made the trip, though I am left with this sadness that there really isn’t a place out there where I fit in. All the feelings of inadequacy that I thought I had quashed were stirred back up. Not only can you not go back, but I know that God doesn’t want me to. He wants me to live in the present and lean into a future that is focused on serving Him. I know that these longings in my heart will never be filled by any human friendship or earthly place, but they are meant to point me to God. When this earthly life is over, I will be taken to the home where I will truly belong. How I ache for that time when the restless longing of this life will be forgotten once and for all.