The internet has the power to connect people in ways no one could have anticipated. Now I can keep track of where my old acquaintances go on their holidays, see pictures of lovely dinners eaten by people I haven’t spoken to in years, and find out what my childhood playmates think about government policies. Amazing, isn’t it? Through their pictures and posts, I get a glimpse into their lives—their homes, families, travels, and their stunning accomplishments and successes.
I’m glad for them, really. But sometimes I also wonder—how does my own life measure up to theirs? Is my life still important if it doesn’t include the same kinds of successes that I see other people achieving and enjoying? If they reach higher and go further than I do, am I just one more loser bringing up the rear in some kind of cosmic reality show competition?
The warm sunlight is filtering through the trees, there’s music in the air, and amid the bustle of the servers and the clink of the cutlery there’s a constant hum of lively conversation. I’m not there. I don’t even know where it is, but when I look at the painting of this scene that hangs over our mantle, I can hear it all. I can feel it all, and I love it. I love how the painting reminds me of moments like this one in real life, when I’ve been in seats like these with friends and family around me. I’m glad the artist captured this moment (wherever it was) and held on to it for me with his brush. I’m glad I found the print to hang in my house, to remind me of my own moments like these.
I took a walk on someone else’s street, someone else’s everyday avenue, in someone else’s city. To me, it was all new. I’d never seen the buildings before, or the trees, and the next corner was a complete mystery that drew me on to look and discover. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, or who their cousins were, or what church they were baptised in. But they knew.
The weather is warmer now, and that means the cranes have sprouted. Some of the fields near us are starting to bloom with new houses and factories. It’s always interesting to watch them grow, but I have to admit that sometimes the process puzzles me. The diggers come in first and push dirt around for ages in ways that seem pointless and confusing, and then there are pipes and concrete pillars and none of it looks like anything I would have expected until the walls start going up and then suddenly I start to recognise the shape of what the builders knew all along. None of it was pointless. Every pillar and digger was directed towards the blueprint of a final product that started in the imagination of the architect, and will finish in a tangible reality that people can live or work in. Just because I don’t see or understand the plan doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means that I’m not the architect.
Cities have long lives. Many of the buildings stand basically unchanged as multiple generations of humans pass through their doors. The streets bear the traffic of life down the same old paths, through days and nights and decades, like ever-flowing rivers. It all looks the same, feels the same, year after year. Even the construction is familiar, the same cranes popping up in different places, the same traffic cones and men at work signs slowing down different roads in turn. Yes, some things do change, but the newness wears off quickly as the changes blend into the familiarity around them.
I saw you at the bus stop, waiting. Your eyes were the only crack in your disguise—small pools of emptiness surrounded by perfection. I’m sure it took you some time, to put on that mask. I’m sure if you could have, you would have covered your eyes with it as well. If I wasn’t a stranger, then I’d love to ask, what do you do it for? Who do you do it for?
Christianity is full of surprising reversals. Just think of Good Friday, where the King of Heaven abolishes the power of death—by dying in our place! He said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And that’s exactly what he did—first the dying, then the bearing much fruit. Now, he calls us to follow him in the same way: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” As we approach Easter, I’ve been thinking a lot about this–what does it look like for me, right now? How is my own life reshaped and redirected by these reversals? These are the things I was thinking of when I wrote this poem:
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Snapchat is drowning in it. Twitter’s recent addition of “Fleets” to the top of their feed looks like what Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin call “Stories,” and all of them work off the same principle that launched Snapchat to prominence: impermanence. It can be daunting to think that what goes up online never comes down, and the solution from every social app is now to offer a way to post temporarily. Now you can say what you like and dance how you please, knowing that after 24 hours the evidence will be gone and no one will be able to cancel you for it in twenty years. Usually the strings of temporary stories at the top of my news feeds are filled with simple pictures or short videos of everyday moments like stencilled coffees, beautiful sunsets, and random complaints. Sometimes they are encouraging thoughts or recommendations. Whatever they are, if you don’t look at them in their allotted time, you’ll miss them.