Rebirth

I died in my sleep once. It happened in my late 20s. It was absolute, sudden, and predictable. And if only metaphorical, it was more than a spiritual death; it was also mental, emotional, social and, I've come to understand, not unique at all. Many of us die this way sooner or later.

That's why I tell this very personal story – the beginning of what I called my Existential Crisis. It's not unique. Fredrick Buechner explained why he wrote his autobiographical books, "I do it because it seems to me that no matter who you are, and no matter how eloquent or otherwise, if you tell your own story with sufficient candor and concreteness, it will be an interesting story and in some sense a universal story."

It must have happened that when I turned the worn key to start my old VW Scirocco that my vision went as dull as the morning clouds were grey and my heart went as numb as my fingers were cold. As I drove suburban hills to the freeway I saw flashes of the previous evening as if hovering over another man's memories. I heard the familiar, "I'm so sorry I don't feel the same way" from the sandy blonde I had anguished over for so long. That must have been what did me in. It wasn't the first time I had anguished so, and not as deeply as in times past. I already had a list of girls I'd been crazy over that didn't return the same crazy, a few that wanted me that I didn't want, and one I regret sending away. No matter. My sanity walls had been breached. I felt as a body without a soul, acting out of sheer habit, driving to work like millions of other drones in the San Francisco Bay Area.

An ancient Jewish proverb makes no promises, just a simple observation, "A hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." We are driven by primal urges as old as the ocean tide and they swell as forcefully within us. Like an oil press for our hopes, they accentuate each hope's flavor, often lending a bitter twinge of primal desire. Some hearts become so bitterly sick – Kierkegaard's "Sickness Unto Death" which endlessly consumes and is unkind to not actually kill us – that we swear it's possible to really die from anguish alone.

I was reborn that day. The word Reborn is often used by surprised, happy people to mean they were enlightened, relieved, made new, newly loved, and many beautiful things. Not for me. Not this time. I was reborn behind a steering wheel at a complete stop on a four-lane parking lot of a freeway. I was as lost as any newborn – blurry-eyed, weak-legged, disoriented, and ignorant, unable to hold my own head up. It wasn't a fresh start. It was an absolute, irreversible, stone beginning.

There we sat in our cars, parking brakes on, one man glancing the morning paper when our shared madness became plain to me. We all agree. We all just agree that we drive to work in the morning. We agree that we earn money to pay for roofs and food. Money itself has no more value than we all agree it does. We agree that come sundown we drive the other way. I wanted to roll down my windows and yell, "Does anybody else, anybody at all, see what's going on here?! Look at us!" Who made all of this up? Who's driving it? I was stunned to feel suddenly resentful that I didn't get to vote on the way the world was set up before I arrived and just as suddenly frightened that nobody was at the helm of this big ship.

Everything was dead within me, my sense of history, religion, faith, hope… everything. It was under suspicion, all of it, and if I were to return to any of it, especially the religious, it had to be completely different for me and I for it. If God were real, especially in the Christian sense, he must be different for me and me for him. I was in no hurry to reconcile any beliefs at all, secular or sacred. If I died before they were reconciled at least I'd die honest.

For the sake of brevity I'll pause the story here. It's hard to leave it half told but after talking with a good bro I realized why I wanted to risk telling this personal story in the first place.

This concept of rebirth is important. To be reborn we die. In some cases like mine we are thrust into it, in other cases some reach a point where they thrust ourselves into it. By my humble experience, I say that this kind of rebirth is a beginning, not a fulfillment. It holds the possibility of fulfillment and our chances of fulfillment are directly related to our capacity to be honest.

If at all, we are reborn blurry-eyed, weak-legged, and ignorant – all possibility ahead of us.

I have a friend to two experiencing this kind of rebirth in different ways. My hope for you, friends, is that when you are similarly reborn your previous expectations, outward and inward, are so absolutely crushed that the years ahead find you free to learn a new way, free to accept life on its own terms, that God will be new for you and you for God.