Anton was feeling restless. His two sons and only daughter were full-grown. All three were living out of state. His wife was long gone. She ran off with another man. He retired last year, having worked for the same firm for 30 years.
So Aton had time on his hands. Too much free time with too little to do.
Of course, there were endless ways to kill time, but he was at that point in life where he needed something more out of life than mindless diversions.
So he went to the garage and started rifling through old, unpacked boxes. Have you ever noticed that you seem to lose something else every time you move? You were sure you packed them for the move, but somehow, between one move and another, they mysteriously disappear.
But at the bottom of the sixth box he opened, there they were–his old yearbooks from junior high and high school. He took them back to the living room, got a beer, and began to thumb through them.
Dimly-remembered names and half-forgotten faces began to reassemble. It was with mixed feelings that he revisited his past.
Sometimes it reminded him of why he hadn’t made the effort to keep up. Reminded him of classmates he’d rather forget about. Classmates he really didn’t like. Now he remembered why he didn’t remember them.
Come to think of it, isn’t that why he attended that out-of-state college? To get away from it all?
He was also struck by how little he ever knew about them. Had he even exchanged a half dozen words with most of them in all the years they attended school together, five days a week, nine months a year, for six years or longer?
Flipping through the pages, most of them were vaguely familiar names and vaguely faces. Nothing more. What hit him was not the mere passage of time, but the ravages of time.
All those years together, then you graduate, go your separate ways. Even if you keep up with a few old friends for a time, you tend to drift apart as the years wear on.
Mind you, the yearbook didn’t always have that effect on him. There were the girls. Suddenly a name came to him from the back of his head. He skipped a few pages to that part of the alphabet and ran his thumb down the page. Sure enough. There was her name. And moving his finger sideways, there was her picture.
He always had a soft-spot for Keri. Sweet, pious, gentle Keri. Why did he never get around to dating her?
At the time his head was full of movie stars. A natural, adolescent infatuation. But none of them attended his high school.
Yet looking back through time as he stared at her photo, he was sorry that he missed an opportunity. At this point in life, nothing seemed more appealing to him than to be married to a high school sweetheart.
Maybe that’s why his wife left him. She sensed a change. A growing discontent.
Aton married her in college. At first they really hit it off. Had a happy marriage. But as the years piled up they grew apart–emotionally, and imperceptibly at first. It’s not something you notice right about because it reflects the absence of something rather than the presence of something. Tedium. Emptiness. An air of intangible regret. Intangible longing.
But at the time, Aton wasn’t what you’d call pious. He didn’t connect with Keri at that level.
Whatever became of Keri? What was she doing now? At this very moment? While he was sitting on the couch, thumbing through his yearbooks, what was she doing–he wondered. Was she still that kind, prayerful girl he knew from school? Or was that just a phase? Youthful naïveté?
Maybe they switched roles. Maybe she became what he used to be, while he became what she used to be.
Flipping through some more pages, he ran across Brad. He remembered Brad because Brad used to hang out with Keri.
Brad was on the football team. Come to think of it, Brad was on three different teams.
He’d bumped into Brad at their 10th high school reunion. They chatted for a few minutes.
As it turned out, public school was the high point in Brad’s life. He lived for sports. The camaraderie.
But he didn’t have the talent to play college football–much less pro football. So when he graduated from high school, the bottom fell out of his social life. He wound up in a series of dead-end jobs.
Keri was there, too. But she was always chatting with someone else, so he didn’t get to talk to her.
And that’s the last time he saw either one. He didn’t make it to his 20th or 30th reunions. It didn’t mean that much to him at the time.
But a few years ago he began to attend church. Began to pray. Began to reflect on life. The passing years. And the remaining years.
Prayer is a paradox. A confession of man’s impotence and God’s omnipotence. We place our impotence in the hands of God’s omnipotence.
So Anton decided to pray for Brad and Keri. He added them to his daily prayer itinerary, along with his three kids–and the ex.
He couldn’t pray for all his classmates. There were too many. And, frankly, he didn’t know what to say. He barely knew most of them. It would be like praying over names in the phone book.
But just because he couldn’t pray for all of them didn’t mean he shouldn’t pray for some of them. So he’d pray for a little remnant.
In one sense, they were interchangeable with millions of other men and women his age. It was an accident of history that he attended school with this set of kids rather than some other set of kids.
And yet, in the providence of God, those were the folks God put him with. So, in a sense, they were his spiritual charges. His little parish. If he didn’t pray for them, who would?
Although he had lost track of them, God had not. Through prayer, he could be a secret friend or anonymous benefactor. In prayer he could be there for them even when he wasn’t with them. Intercede for them. Work behind-the-scenes.
Of course, it was ultimately up to God.
Five years later, Anton died in a traffic accident. One of the features of life in heaven is that you got to serve on welcoming committees or greeting parties for new arrivals.
When a Christian died, there was usually someone who had preceded him to heaven, someone he knew in this life. A friendly face. A familiar face. A thread connecting two worlds.
When Keri died, the first person she saw on the other side was Aton. And when Brad died, the first person he saw on the other side was Anton.
They were young again. Like high school. Only this time, things were inexpressibly better than before.