My friend Noah’s father is a pastor. Since he was young Noah has said he wanted to be a pastor too. At first his father refused to support this choice. He would say “if you’re the son of a pastor, everyone pats you on the head when you tell them you’re going to be a pastor too.” He didn’t want Noah to make this decision just for all the praise he got, since being a pastor was a hard job that didn’t pay well. But as Noah went through high school and college and persisted, finally his father relented and decided Noah was old enough that he could make his own informed decision. He sat his son down and prepared him for all of the challenges he would have to face and overcome, and told him how proud he was.
Late in my senior year, Noah gave his first sermon, which I attended along with many of his other friends. It was well structured and focused on why it takes a young heart to walk with God. I was never religious but always had a sort of tacit appreciation for what it brought people. Some of my friends who were raised closer to religion had strong feelings of spite against it, and in discussions with them I would inevitably make the charitable argument for the good it does. Noah was raised religious. In high school he started to question his faith but a miraculous experience he had during a time of his life when he felt lost helped him find his faith again.
Noah talked about what he called “in-between times.” He had graduated the year before and stayed in town to save up money for seminary. The friends he made that were in his grade had left town to start full-time jobs all over the world. He said he sometimes felt left behind by them, stuck in an awkward place between university and the rest of his life. When you’re young, he said, you go through a lot of in-between times. You switch between elementary and middle school, middle and high school, and high school and university. You make and lose a lot of friends and your day to day life keeps changing. You go through first days every year. The first day of 7th grade in a new classroom, with a new teacher and new classmates. The first day of high school, in a new building in a new part of town. The first day of college in a new state with no friends. Maybe even the first day of work across the country. He looked at me when he said this and it made me cry.
These in-between times are awkward and at times saddening, he said. It can feel like you don’t quite fit in to your new home, or you no longer belong at your old home. You feel like you’re not ready; you want to go back and have a few more weeks of what you know but at the same time this place that used to be yours has already finished with you and now it’s someone else’s turn. But, in a less cliche way, Noah pointed out that these kinds of times give you an opportunity to grow as a person. When you know where you belong you don’t need to think as hard about who you are; you are your friends and your room. During these parts of Noah’s life, he learned what it means to walk with God.
I can’t recall the three reasons Noah said it takes a young heart to walk with God. I don’t know if God ever meant the same thing to me as it does to Noah, though of course we talked about it more times than I can remember, we couldn’t help it. He made me promise to keep in touch when I left, and I did.
It turned out that after I graduated, I had the summer off to be in between school and work. One morning in May I woke up an hour and a half before noon. It was a peaceful waking, brought on by the light shining through my room’s curtains which never quite blocked the sunlight so that most months I would wake up consistently at dawn. I got up and inspected myself in the mirror. I had learned to embrace my bed hair, since it showed off that I wasn’t overly concerned with my appearance, which was ironic in some weird way but not dishonest. My skin had cleared up since the last summer when I had finally seen a dermatologist who recommended some chemicals that might help with my acne. Up until then I was unexplainably ashamed about my skin, and it almost felt like acknowledging the acne would make it real and therefore worse. It did, in a way, but it also made it better. I quickly took a shower, got dressed in something comfortable and made coffee in the kitchen while I opened up my laptop. The apartment was quiet except for the birds and the wind through the open window. At noon my roommate Lawrence came home to me sitting on the couch with my laptop on my lap. I asked him what he had done that morning and he asked me what I was planning for the rest of the day. I told him about the textbook I was working through and the news I had read that day, and that I was getting a little antsy now that class had ended so I might try to routinely go to the campus library just to get out of the apartment. Then Lawrence left to do the next thing on his schedule, which consistently seemed more full than mine.
This could have been any day in May or June that year. It was usually warm and humid outside so I spent most of my time inside. I set up times to catch up with friends who were still in town over the summer. Occasionally I drove the half hour home to visit my parents because they had asked me when I would be visiting again. Being finished with school felt a lot like school being finished with me. I had no more obligations, no weekly meetings to help portion off my time. Like Murakami writes, the only way to tell one day from another was with a bookmark. I never lost track of what day of the week it was, but it actually wouldn’t have made a difference if I had. On days when I would walk around outside I tried to memorize how things looked so that when I left I would still be able to picture them, but thinking about leaving made me sad. I did a lot of thinking about the entirety of the last four years, with no solid conclusions. That’s how it is with me sometimes, when there’s an overwhelming feeling of something that I can’t name or even really describe, and it’s so overwhelming that I can’t break it into pieces with thoughts the way I do with regular problems. It was kind of like a feeling of nostalgia, except I wasn’t wishing I were back in the past, I was just trying to say a thoughtful goodbye to it.
The boring passed eventually, but this feeling never did. When I left my apartment for the last time at the end of the summer I flicked off the lights and looked down with a sigh and imagined that it was the series finale of a TV show, since those always make me cry. A couple days later I realized that I had left the internet modem and would therefore have to pay the company a fee. One-hundred dollars. I decided not to tell Lawrence, who had moved out a couple days before me, so that he wouldn’t feel bad or offer to pay for half. I lived in that apartment for three years of school so it was really strongly entwined with my memories of school. Unavoidably, in my head leaving the apartment was a lot like leaving that part of my life.