Some people prepare for the transitions that occur in their life. I don’t. It is not that I don’t want to, but rather that I don’t know how. Something’s wrong my brain, I think. While most people anticipate, plan, and execute their plans, I tend to just show up, stumble in, or get thrust into transitions when I am not even ready – and then, after I am floundering pathetically, it occurs to me that I should have planned for this.
Most people anticipate a transition and adjust their lives for it. For example, by the time high school is over, they have already prepared for college. They know where they are going, when they will get there, their housing situation, where to get food, what courses they will take that Fall, etc. These people see the transition coming and understand that this is something that is going to happen in their lives. They have influenced the outcome with some sense of intentionality. For me, life just seems to happen – to me. Much of the time I watch my own life like it’s a movie. I see a plot unfolding, but don’t know what is going to happen. And even if I did anticipate what was going to happen, it’s just a movie. It’s like I can’t seem to operate such that the transition is actually going to happen in real life. All too often, I live as if it is not happening right now, it does not exist.
Many adolescents live in an extremely present-tense world. Part of adolescence, however, is learning about that part of your brain that is capable of mentally getting outside of the current bowl of Captain Crunch you’re eating and consider the future. The transition out of high school to college or work marks the first major rite of passage that requires some sort of future thinking. Many of the people I knew seemed quite capable of understanding the implications of this transition and made adjustments quite well. I, however, wasn’t able to think about the future in real terms. I could talk about the future, but not like it was really going to happen. It’s like I was using the imagination or fantasy part of my brain for planning for the future. What would occur in my life down the road was something fun to think about, but mentally categorized as inconsequential. It’s OK to use the imaginative part of the brain, but it is not OK to use it for planning – because no actual planning gets done. How sad that I had this incredible brain and used it all wrong.
Since I had apparently misplaced the users manual for my brain, I needed help. Unconventional help. Divine help. I needed to hear things in different ways – ways that would get my attention. I needed the kind of assistance that would by-pass my imagination addiction and move me forward in action.
It was 1987, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a strange sort of summer. Unusual things were happening. These were the kinds of things that, when they happen, it should be telling you something. It was like God was really trying to tell me something important. But what was that message I was supposed to be getting? What was I being warned about?
In June, for instance, as anyone alive at the time in the Minneapolis area would recall, there was a tremendous flood. It rained seven inches on Monday and nine inches on Thursday. Monday’s storm set the stage by saturating the ground and Thursday’s storm came in for the kill. Hard and loud, the rain cascaded and splashed to the ground so heavy and steady it was like sitting under a waterfall - the ground just couldn’t drink it up. Rain pounded down in the night, lightning strobed like a house of horrors, and continuous thunder punished the earth. The sewers gave out and began vomiting up rainwater – the streets began to fill as water looked for alternative places to pool. Low spots began to disappear as the floodwater crept up our street, crept up our driveway, and injected our hearts with dark questions about means of survival.
When the spacious firmament had finally wrung itself dry, the streets were rivers, basements were murky subterrainian pools, and smart people used boats to get around. But the rain had stopped. People exited their dark houses to assess the situation. Neighbors wanted to talk to each other, but would need to swim across the street to do so. An eerie calm began to settle in as the lightning, now silent, continued to strobe off in the distance. Looking down the street and seeing the headlights of a submerged car dim and then go out completely was a fearful sight.
I was in a daze of excitement and fear. There was this voice inside my head saying, “go for a swim.” But my more sensible side conjured up images of what might by lurking under the water. Part of the image came from reality – debris, sharp objects, and the chance of getting electrocuted. Part of the image came from the garbage scene in Star Wars in which the walls were closing in and this strange, snake-like creature kept pulling Luke under water. I kept out of the water.
A flood of this kind happens maybe once in a lifetime. It is the kind of event that is so immense, so overwhelming, that it immediately imprints into the mind and occupies that part of the brain reserved for the unforgettable. It was the kind of event that deserved a name and a t-shirt proclaiming one’s survival. “I survived the flood of 1987” t-shirts did, indeed begin to appear shortly after clean up.
But was the Flood of ‘87 a universe message just for me? Was it God’s metaphoric communication for what was about happen in my life? Was everything I knew and expected life to be about to change? Was God giving me a heads up? Well, if God was speaking, I wasn’t really listening. I went on with life as usual, playing baseball, going to summer camp, sleeping in until noon, eating Captain Crunch and trying to find ways to slay the boredom. Little did I know that I was merely weeks away from one of the most dramatic turns in my life.