To my dear friends in Dallas, on the eve of a goodbye party thrown in my honor. There was a piñata. There were fajitas. There was more love than perhaps I’ve ever experienced in one place. Here are my parting words. –
“The end of all our striving is to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” -T.S. Eliot
Eliot’s phrase is true in the macro, Gospel, cosmic sense. Like Dante, we arrive on a road we did not choose, already on our way somewhere else. By the time we gain consciousness and habits and fears and dreams, we’re years into the process of leaving. But because of grace that’s been extended to us, for no other reason than grace’s sake, we find our way home. We make it out alive. Adam’s lot becomes our own.
It’s at the crunch points of life,where knights and rooks take out pawns and bishops with sweeping moves across the chessboard, that I’m reminded that Eliot’s phrase, soaked in Gospel goodness, is true in the most microscopic moments of existence, too. If the Gospel isn’t big enough to handle my most significant existential questions and small enough to refresh and reset the grinding mundaneness that occurs in between moving trucks and goodbye parties and scholarship offers, then it is no good news at all. But it is, and it is, and so here we are, with the pain of separation bolstered by the promise of “soon and very soon”.
Each of you and all of you have provided context to this place and idea called Dallas in cooperation with me and sometimes in spite of me. Before I moved back here, I was strictly from the suburbs, looped into 635 only when high school friends and I wished to pretend we were from the Park Cities. My so-called return two years ago seemed a Catch-22 in slow motion: I was familiar enough with Dallas not to view my time here as an adventure, but not familiar enough with Dallas to be comfortable with the way that it fools you, hiding pockets of goodness behind highways and SUVs filled with suburbanites wishing they were from the Park Cities. And yet, with your help, we have laid a topography of hope to this place. We have watched the sun set over the Margaret Hunt bridge, we have found that incredible taco place in the gas station, we have sneaked into apartment pools and feigned a coastal lifestyle for an hour or two. We have dressed up and donned accents worthy of all the old money we don’t have. And as we have discovered this place, we have told one another the story of ourselves, reminded one another to whom we belong, and sunk taproots of truth into one another’s hearts, roots that weather the senseless despondency and confusion that still manages to bring us all down despite our place in God’s Kingdom.
With your help, my time here has been not only redeemed–restored at face value–but strengthened so much that I lament that the time has come for me to go. While this goal of traveling abroad and its fulfillment have always been abstract, as Wanderlust can only be, the ways that each of you have been at times my strongest tie to God’s Kingdom has been mercifully and at times uncomfortably concrete. You have been split checks at dozens of restaurants, lazy companions on the errands that everyone has and nobody wants, holders of my secrets, doubles partners, dance partners, teachers of how to carry chopsticks, receivers of my musings on the economic value of time while on vacation and bouts of wild oversinging, and faces in the family of faith that have kept me buoyant in this season where I feel like a freshman in high school–changing, unsure of the rules, overenthusiastic–minus the braces and most of the puberty and with a salary and a piece of paper that says I know better. In ways that we all want to express but will never be able to, we have been these things for one another.
John says in his second letter that because we belong to the Lord, the truth abides in us and will be with us forever. So in this moment where, with the exception of a few painfully absent faces (and one face that completes the circle, to my surprise and delight), I could press pause and have this be my Thanksgiving table from here on out. It’s this notion of abiding truth and an assured destiny that will provide confidence and rest when I step off the plane in Mexico City and become that Payton for the next year. You see, the world would have us believe that modernity’s glass ceiling is ready to be shattered, that the world is ours, that the only thing sure about our destiny is that we have one and we must keep searching for it.
But Eliot has a better way. I come back to the posture of a child, whose whole world is a lego set, an ice cream cone, a slip-and-slide, and who is content in his limitation because at the end of the day, there is supper and a bath and a bedtime. Oh, to live in this paradox, striving and stretching to see where I end and the world begins, but content in my frailty, in my 163 pounds and 5-foot-wish-it-was-more frame, in the fact that things end and I cannot stop them from doing so.
Tonight, as worlds collide, the family that was chosen for me meeting the ones I added along the way, is hopeful and sad. It’s sad because, for the foreseeable future (and what part can be seen, I wonder?) I won’t be there on Tuesday nights to do roses and thorns with my guys; I will have to cancel Wednesday breakfasts with Seth until further notice; Skyler will have to go to Trinity Hall and drink a Belgian beer and just imagine me sitting across the way, sipping my Sprite earnestly. I can’t surprise my family anymore and listen to the click-clacks of the dogs running to greet me and peeing with excitement. I can’t get route 44 Sonic drinks and laugh with my aunt at nothing and everything, and I can’t hold my grandmother’s hand as she tells me 92 years worth of stories. I can’t wonder how my mom plays on three tablet computers while watching TV and dispensing care and wisdom about my problems all at the same time. I can’t show up to any more parties dressed like lizard Darth Vader or with homemade guac or black bean dip in tow. I can’t wish you happy new year on behalf of Don Draper. I can’t sit two feet away from you and take in all the crap of the past week with you and tell you that it’s all going to turn out alright, even if the turning out will take all of your life now and the rest of it, too. I can’t show up to the Village and view it as the place where 90% of my dearest friends meet to worship the Lord, our crew huddled together in the southeastern part of the sanctuary with the promise of ho-cho or fro-yo afterward, depending on the season. All of the stories that I have shared with each of you are changing, and in their cocoon, it seems like they have died. That is sad, to sift the memories of the past two years, my most significant yet, in my mind and find that what remains most is moments of poignancy and longing.
And yet. The most powerful words of the Gospel. All will be bright at last, child of weakness, I tell myself. I’ll stop eulogizing, because I am not dead yet but am in fact being sent by this place and all the people in it to become more of the man that I was meant to be. Apparently, I am lacking Mexican-ness, so I will do my best to get it and to report back with sombreros and tales and better guacamole and a clearer sense of the power, matchless grace and goodness of the King I serve. My stories to you all will require translation, but they will be told, even if we have to wait until the time of eternal light to reattain what we have here tonight.
So on with it. We must say goodbye, because we must part. You will only know a pixelated or a telephonic version of me for a long time, and that is a cheap imitation compared to the full-bodiedness of companionship I’ve built with all of you. But there is redemption and a promise even as we utter the words and feel the weight and fight back tears, because we never belonged here anyway. Let the bouts of suffering drive us closer to the One who promises that it will all be alright soon, far sooner than we think, too soon to do anything but live in the reality of His coming each day as best we can. If you live like that and I live like that and we keep on telling each other the story and the truth of who we were meant to be, we will make it. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to share the one life we have and the only moment we have for two years. Goodbye, stay safe, do not speed at the Campbell Road exit, do not sample shrimp from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Northwest Highway, do not leave Dallas without visiting Paperbacks Plus in Lakewood, and be on the lookout for postcards and Mexican tchotchkes to hit your mailbox over the next year. I love you, I love this time. Its memory will linger sweetly until we meet again.