There was a lake. I was 17. There were friends, and a summer night, and stale popcorn on the cabin floor. We went outside, shed our clothes and went for a cold swim. We sang Van Morrison at the top of our lungs, fell asleep under the stars, dreamed about what our lives would be like 30 years from then. Catch as catch can, we said.
And here I am, 30 years later looking back at what’s been caught. It all seemed so haphazard while I was going through it, so unknowable from my vantage point at 17, dripping wet under the stars. But now, in looking back, a pattern, barely perceptible, emerges. All those years, so much living, so many people, so many choices, so many roads (taken and not taken), and yet under and over it all… in people’s faces, in prayers offered on my behalf, in the countless friendships that came and went, in my own failures. How could I know that my future was reaching back to me every bit as much as my past was reaching ahead?
Had I known then what the stars knew, their light a thousand years from home and finding me lying on the sand, my eyes staring up at them with nothing but questions.
Catch as catch can it all seems in the making; there is no road, we’re told. We make the way by walking. And yet, we don’t travel our journeys alone. The stars keep watch, maybe even have a story to tell. Silent, not altogether indifferent, lighting our way. Guided by the stuff we are all made of. Guided by the hand that made it all.
It all was so new at 17, I so fresh and young still, so much of life ahead of me and around a bend I could not see. But the stars could see, from their vantage point a billion miles from me. They’d traveled far, across continents of other stars, fields of dark matter, oceans of nothingness, to meet me on that lake shore that summer night in ’81.
I look up at those stars now and wonder, What do they know about my life 30 years from now? Where will I be? And with whom? This time, I know. With my aging wife, God-willing, and my two children, and maybe their children, too. And I’ll have come full circle and will be lying on that shore, dripping wet, under the stars, Van Morrison ringing in my ears, this life ebbing to a close, surrounded by love.
You catch what you can.