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“Crystal Ball” by Dan Queiroz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Life is such a surprise

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By Martin Elfert

If someone told you the story of your life ahead of time, you’d never believe them.

A couple of years back, I had an early morning ride to the airport. The cabby who took me there was in a philosophical mood. It was the end of a long shift for him, and maybe marking the hours of the night and ferrying people around and watching the transition from the last of the drunks to the first of the joggers would make anyone philosophical. The cabby told me a lot about his life, about his romantic life, about his finances, about how – unexpectedly, unplannedly – he was in his fifties and raising a small child.

About how he didn’t see any of it coming.

My story was and is different than than his. But my surprise at the tale of my life is no different. I sometimes imagine myself at age ten – the age my daughter is now – or even at age twenty or thirty, and someone handing me the magic book or the crystal ball that allows me to see the future, that allows the younger me to gaze upon the current me.

What would I think of myself?

At ten, I had a collection of teddy bears. I couldn’t imagine them having anything other than a central place in my life; I was appalled at the notion that I might someday abandon them. But when I last visited my parents’ home, I was startled to realize that I had forgotten more than one of my stuffed friends’ names.

At twenty, I had long hair. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to cut it off. Today, I relish getting out of a swimming pool and being able to immediately dry my hair with a towel. I don’t miss the fifteen minute blow drying project that used to come with water.

At thirty, I scarcely knew anyone of significance in my life who had died. Today, as I continue the slow hike into middle age, I am beginning understand what Philip Roth was getting at when he said that, “old age is a massacre.”

It’s not all change or loss – not even close. In a culture that is fascinated with new romance, I am, in my third decade with Phoebe, discovering the joy of a seasoned marriage. I find continual meaning in the exhausting privilege that we call parenting. And it is a such a gift to get to serve God at home, at church, and on the street.

I guess what I am saying to you is more or less the same thing that the philosopher-cabby said to me:

It’s all such a surprise.

But then again, who would want it any other way? Who would want to know the adventure before it begins? Who would want to know the contents of the present before the wrapping comes off or the sound of the record before the needle finds its way into the groove? It is as it should be that none of us is born knowing the story ahead of time. It is as it should be that we tell our tale to the cabby with wonder and disbelief as his car takes us through the early-morning light and toward something new.

Martin Elfert

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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