Sunday, March 23, 2008

Odometers and Eternity

I was driving last week. That’s not unusual, of course. But last week, while I was driving, something happened.

Before I tell you what that something is, I need to share another something with you that will help you understand why this story is significant. Or, it may reaffirm your suspicion that I am, deep down, a very strange little man, prone to develop and maintain odd habits and fancies in areas well beyond the range of a normal human psyche. This is one of those strange compulsory things like turning a doorknob exactly three times before opening the door, straightening towels in someone else’s house, using a salad fork instead of a dinner fork for non-salad meal courses, or listening to Sheryl Crow (thank you, Charlie Stephan). For years I’ve had my own little odd thing that I’m about to share with you. And that thing is this (brace yourself):

I look for patterns in my odometer.

It’s just something I can’t help doing. Whenever I get in my car, I always check the odometer. This is probably a good habit, but what usually happens next is that my mind starts moving forward, looking ahead. When will the next pattern occur? What will it be? Will I see it before I arrive at my next destination? I love seeing these patterns. And if I miss them, I feel an enormous sense of failure and disappointment. I especially enjoy watching the odometer turn from the number right before a pattern to the actual pattern. Some people simply look for the big turnover moments, like from 99,999 to 100,000. Me, I won’t settle for just the turnovers. I look for patterns.

My favorite patterns are numbers that are sort of “palindromes.” I don’t know if numbers actually can be palindromes. A palindrome is a word or words that are spelled the same way forward and backward, like “mom” or “race car” or “a man, a plan, a canal: panama.” But numbers can look the same forwards and backwards, too. Like 105450.1.

If your odometer reads tenths of miles, and you’re over 100,000 already, then you come across a palindromic number every 110 miles or so. Unfortunately, my car doesn’t show tenths. So now that I’ve passed 100,000 I only get to a palindromic number every 1100 miles, give or take.

This bums me out, so I look for other patterns, like repeats (105105), fewest numbers used (121121), what I call “clock-turners” (86098), and what I call “mirrors” (150021). See if you can figure out why clock-turners and mirrors are interesting to me. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Yes, I’m a nerd. Numbers are a big deal for me. I could write pages on this subject, even though I’m not too advanced in mathematics. For instance, I would tell you that if you think about it, digital clocks are wrong, because 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 is actually 2 5 5 4 5 6 3 7 6 6. Think about it. If you don’t get it, I’d be happy to explain it to you. But all of that is for another blog. Let’s get back to why my odometer is important.

You now know that I watch my odometer like it’s my own little television show, where plot developments are easy to predict and slow to happen. So it won’t surprise you that I noticed the other day a very significant number on my car’s odometer: 110,277. Or 110277, which can be broken down to 11-02-77, which is my birth date.

It was weird to see the odometer display my birth date. And kinda fun. As I drove the next mile, I thought of the fact that on that day in history, my parents were at the hospital. My dad was probably excited, and my mom probably looked nervous and stressed and tired.

A day earlier I was simply an anticipation to my parents, my family. They were waiting to meet me. I had no concept of meeting them, no concept of time, no concept of the impending event, a brief day away.

As the miles moved on, the odometer showed me birthdays. There was 11-02-90 when I got my first CD, Chicago’s Greatest Hits, and then got upset at my family because it seemed like everyone went about their own business and forgot it was my birthday. Kind of an “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” moment of selfishness. There was 11-02-94, when I got a guitar tab for Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and I played “Mother” for my family, struggling to move from a G chord to a C while singing along. There was 11-02-98, when my roommates Chris Ageton and Josh Moenning took me out for my first beer. Ever. I had a Corona with lime, then a vanilla bulldog and I was done in for the evening.

Two miles later the odometer moved to 110300, which was no longer my birthday, but a day later in the year 2000. I had recently gotten engaged at that point in my life.

And so the past couple of weeks I’ve watched the odometer move into the future, on less significant but no less eventual dates. Right now it’s in the 110400s. In fact, it’s 11-04-69. That’ll be two days after my 92nd birthday. If I make it there.

That’s what this post is really about. I’ve been thinking of my own mortality the past few days. Every click of the odometer seems a less likely date that I’ll see someday. At some point in the future, the synapses will cease to fire, the blood will slow to a stop in my veins and arteries, the breath will pass from my lungs a final time, and time will cease to matter to me. No more days to count. No more odometer-watching. There will be only eternity with God.

Eternity is a bright white vapor in my mind. It’s kind of like clouds, but without definite boundaries. I can’t wrap my thoughts around it, or cause it to take shape or pattern. It’s enigmatic, unknown. We have nothing to compare it to, no way to classify it. In math, eternity (or infinity) has its own symbol that looks like a sideways 8, which doesn’t even come close to defining it. What will eternity feel like? Maybe eternity’s hard to describe because we always talk in terms of senses. But after death, when the body has expired, there is left just the soul. Does the soul feel? Will eternity have a smell? What will it look like? Will I hear as I do now? Is there gravity? Eternity is confounding.

I’m sure the joy I will experience there will be just as profound. Can you imagine being face to face with YHWH, Who knew you before you were born, before you were conceived, before you were a fragment of an idea in the minds of your parents? I think my reaction will be weeping. Not weeping out of fear or sorrow or regret, but simply joy. Completeness. Peace. Understanding.

I know in my head that death has no power over me. When Christ died and rose again, he conquered the power of death over all of us. That’s why we celebrate Easter, because it was the moment in history when death and Satan lost not only the battle, but also the war. I know this to be true.

But, if I’m really honest with myself, I still fear that day in my future. I still dread that moment when I will close my eyes for the last time here on earth, and open them to eternity. And I’ve been trying to process through this thought for a while. Why would I dread leaving here if I know what’s there?

I think the answer is, again, that there (eternity) is unknown, unfathomable. And so is the complete joy that we’ll feel. The Bible tells us that now we only see in part, only understand in part. And because of that, when I think of death I think of all that I’ll leave behind. Which is a dreadful eclipsing thought. Even though I know that many of my friends and family will be there in eternity, too. Even though I know that my Savior will seat me at a table, and the banquet feast before me will cause my heart to swell and my eyes to weep. Even though I will look back on my finite life on earth and wonder what the big deal was, why I dreaded the inescapability of my final day there.

Today we celebrate the promise of eternity accomplished and made available by Jesus Christ. He lived, He died, He rose again. And so, if we believe in Him, we won't perish but will instead live into eternity. What an incredible thing to know, even if we don’t fully understand it.

No comments: