hitchhiking to heaven


So I’m back in the city, but while I was in the country the folks in that little town tried very hard to undo some of my more citified traits. They played country music on the radio and used words I’d never heard before and drug me to a rodeo. At one point I was teaching a man who is part of a motorcycle gang how to do an exercise we call the ‘confused hitchhiker’ because you point your thumbs in either direction. He got that rascally look on his face like he was about to drop some down home knowledge on me and told me “when you’re really hitchhiking you don’t get to pick which way you’re goin.”
What? Apparently ‘real’ hitchhikers are just going wherever the ride takes them. The etiquette is that you ask the driver where they are going, and ride along in that direction. If you have a destination in mind, it is somehow less ‘real’. I trust the authority of an aging motorcycle rider who looks as though the seventies were hard on him. On this matter most especially.
We, my friends, are hitchhiking to heaven (segue. oh well). Try as we might, we are certainly not getting there via any vehicle we have managed to create. I picture us there, strung out and tired, asking Jesus where He is headed, and clamboring in for a ride. I picture the way the scent inside the car would be sharply unfamiliar, and I try to imagine what might be on the radio.
And, in this moment, where we are going isn’t up to us (I think Jesus said something to this effect to Peter. Something about putting a belt around an old man and telling him where to go, which is funny because I did that all month with gait belts). The world drags us one way, puttering along in vehicles made of our stuff and our dreams and our people and our accomplishments. But somehow or another we crash. They let us down. And we are stranded. Beaten up and unable to go any farther on our own feet, we hitch a ride.
And I’ve realized you don’t always get to choose. Sometimes God brings you to Woodward, or to Oklahoma, or to wherever it is. And you go, because you had to leave the wreck of your old stuff behind you. Sometimes it’s a bumpy, circuitous route that feels completely pointless, but there you are.
There you are, watching her body go limp and lifeless. Feeling almost numbly for a pulse while he does chest compressions next to you. There you are as her breath rattles back, gasping. There you are. And even if she has somehow evaded death today, it will catch up to her.
Everything dies. And there you are. There you stand stumbling around in the ruins of the wreck, almost awed by how easily the whole thing flipped, and rolled, and caught fire. It was like this, for my patient who rode motorcycles and worked as a truck driver. The truck rolled, burned, and in an instant he had no job and no way back. He caught a ride with a passing stranger, cradling broken bones and walking gingerly on a bruised body.
In an instant it has died around you. Before the odor has set in it looks lovely, for a moment. You love it just a second after it has failed you. And then it is dead and begins to rot, and you turn away, confused at how something you loved could sour so quickly. The corpse, even of a loved one, will send that particular tremor across your stomach and turn your face away.
Everything dies, and there you are trying to love it back to life. Trying to hold on to these things, when we’ve been told they are fleeting, meaningless, like trying to grasp wind. But we try. We want to save it, to collect the insurance, something.
We need to leave it behind. I do. I need to let the dreams die, but more importantly I need to let the plans and the busyness and the piles of just stuff that I don’t need to stop holding me back. I need to walk away from the wreck I made of everything and be willing to catch a ride. To leave it there, in the past, unsure that I will ever be able to return.
In this moment it almost begins to repulse me. I look at the things I have hoarded and treasured and loved even after he told me not to. The family I might have had. The salary I could have made. The really cute dress that cost as much as saving the lives of two Iraqi kids. The pile of things looks suddenly weak, and I can almost smell death on it. In this moment I could leave it, I think. Could go with Jesus wherever it is he goes from here, whether it is to a place like Woodward or a place like Waco, or somewhere else entirely.
But, physically, I am leaving. I am going away from this place where there has been so much thoughtful silence and so little distraction. This place God has spoken and taught and helped. I am leaving this strange hospital where the rooms keep flooding (and that last is not a metaphor, but a reality). And I will go home, and it will be harder.
I only pray he will continue to lead me away from the ruins of what has been and might have been, and into the mystery of what was always meant to be.

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