one year ago today, i had just returned from officiating a wonderful wedding for a dear, long-time friend and former student at a magnificent vineyard in Santa Ynez County, California. i was anticipating a week ahead that included meetings with groups and individuals, leading a retreat for care leaders of the community in which i was called to serve, preparing to lead that community in an experience of worship and share some words to encourage, challenge and (hopefully) inspire them in their journeys of life and faith.
i WAS living out the vocation for which i had been prepared and to which i had been called for over 20 years.
today, i awoke before the crack of dawn to drive a school bus around town, picking up students with special gifts and needs, and dropping them off at their daily learning community. i will do the same (add a few more students and two additional schools) this afternoon. in between, i water the yard, help with cleaning the house, go running, check my email for any new updates on possible new jobs or calls, contact people who may have leads or connections to said possible new jobs or calls, and write things like this blog piece.
i AM living now in a place and space emotionally, relationally, vocationally, and spiritually that i never imagined i would be.
and i am not alone.
my family is making this journey with me, traveling through their own confusion and challenges brought on by my sudden and unexpected loss of job.
until recently, i was merely one of 32,472 people in the state of Montana who are unemployed (roughly 6.4% of the potential working population), and one of 12,544,000 unemployed people in the United States (about 8.1% of the potential working population). and these figures don't include the other community of which i am now a part, the 'under-employed' (currently 8.3% of the total population). at any time, but especially in this economy, i consider myself very fortunate to be a part of the latter group.
but it is certainly NOT where i expected to find myself at this juncture of my life's journey.
what a difference a year makes.
the voices that play in my head are numerous and varied.
some of them resound with heartfelt encouragement and confidence, reminding me that i am gifted and talented enough that i shouldn't have any trouble finding a new place to share those gifts and talents, and even that any of those potential new places would be 'crazy' not to hire me on the spot.
(nine months later, i still occasionally find myself scanning the horizon for one of those places...ANY of those places that now appear to be more 'crazy' than those voices realized.)
others cry out in frustration and rage at the injustice my family and i have had to endure, lashing out at the 'silent' One who called us to this place, only to be rejected by the community that called us in the name of that One, and leaving me to wonder why i've spent all of my adult life seeking to follow this One and this seemingly 'blessed' and definitely baffling calling if all it did was lead me to this absurd and agonizing place.
(and all my words about how poignant and powerful that 'silence' is continue to haunt me for how hollow they all sound now...and remind me how sorry i am for all the times i inflicted them on dear struggling people over so many years.)
still other voices emerge from my past, that most primal place within me, and turn that frustration and rage inward, and i end up berating myself for taking my calling and job for granted, beating myself up for not doing a better job, burdening myself with increasing shame and guilt for letting down my family and my community and myself.
(and this leads me either back down 'memory lane' to when all of life was magnificent and made 'sense', or to dream forward into a future where all will be made well again...which are both simply means for me to deny the present reality in which i live and move and breathe, and yet, have an increasingly difficult time 'being'.)
it's quite a psychotic symphony in my subconscious these days.
and most of the time, this cacophony in my cerebral cortex, this dissonant din drowns out the one Voice i actually need and want to hear the most.
the Voice that communicates to me who i really am...and Whose i really am.
the Voice that counters all the berating and beating up and burdening with reminders of blessing and my belovedness.
the Voice that is encountered most often in silence, and transcends that silence with peaceful, loving and life-giving Presence.
the Voice that embraces all past, present and future into the Eternal NOW.
i arrived to the station on this chilly morning in shorts, a UM sweatshirt and an old pair of running shoes. in SILENCE.
i did my first pre-trip inspection of the bus. in SILENCE.
i greeted my partner and helper, closed the door, clicked on my seat belt, released the emergency brake, put the bus in gear, pulled out of the parking lot, and drove to pick up my first student. IN SILENCE.
i arrived at the first stop a couple of minutes early and waited. IN SILENCE.
until my first student arrived, a sweet young lady layered against the morning chill in a bulky leather jacket and jeans, with her usual Philadelphia Phillies cap on her head.
and i broke the SILENCE.
and extended my hand to her in greeting, which she vigorously shook in reply.
'hi...i'm brian...and i'll be driving you now.'
and she broke the SILENCE with just one word. an ordinary word in our culture, but one that for me on this frosty morning might as well have come from the Burning Bush or the Bo Tree or the Cave of Hira or the Mount of Mecca or Sinai or Calvary.
with a smile, she replied...
as a bus driver, you learn to be diligent in keeping all obstructions out of your sightlines.
and so, i quickly wiped away the tears that were forming in my eyes and blurring my vision.
and found that the tears that had blurred my vision had actually washed away some of the frustration and fear, the sorrow and shame, the confusion and cacophony, and had given me a new kind of vision.
a vision of hope drowning out despair.
a vision of peace overpowering discord.
a vision of love empowering service. and LIFE.
a vision of one community released to exist in the past, and another, smaller, quieter and equally special community emerging right before my eyes in the present, riding along on Bus 132 through the streets of Missoula, embodying in their own unique ways the presence of the Presence.
a vision of embracing this new little community as the ones i am called to serve in the present...
in the presence of the Presence...
as my current experience of the latest incarnation of the Eternal NOW.
it wasn't mud and spit in my eyes that restored my sight.
it was just the exclamation of a teenager.
a child of our Creator.
an unknowing mouthpiece for the silent Voice.
it was what came through my ears
that enacted the tears
that flowed like the River ever flowing,
that washes away our failures and fears,
that empowers us,
through faltering moments unknowing,
to move forward
embracing all that comes our way,
drawing us ever closer to the Ocean of Love
that embraces all past, present and future...
inviting us to simply, sincerely and silently embrace NOW.
('Mr. Awesome' as a 47 year-old, grey-haired, bus-driving dude ;)