Concerning Change and Bacon Gouda Sandwiches

In the midst of grief and change, find the things that tether you.

Can we talk for a moment about the indignity of spending $10.75 on two pieces of six-day-old bread ensconcing a substance made of more nitrates than turkey flesh?

I speak, of course, of airport food.

A few months ago, I found myself faced with the difficult dilemma of hungry desperation caused by my plummeting blood sugar, or a stale sandwich. In the end, I rejected the food stand sandwich in favor of a comparable choice at Starbucks. At least this expensive, stale bundle of preservatives comes with chips.

This choice was thrust upon me by Starbucks’ lack of Bacon and Gouda Breakfast Sandwiches.

In days of old—by which I mean when I was an undergraduate—each trip home to Colorado from the Santa Ana airport was accompanied by a happy tradition: a Bacon and Gouda Breakfast Sandwich and a tall mocha with whip. This carb, sugar, dairy filled treat was one that heartened me for the homeward journey. I looked forward to it. I savored it. I counted on it.

But that evening a few months ago, I boarded the plane to Denver from Santa Ana with no Bacon Gouda Breakfast Sandwich.

Considering this with a hint of disappointment, I mournfully popped a potato chip in my mouth. My tastebuds swiftly made me aware that the chips were not original sea salt, as I expected, but vinegar. I sighed and resigned myself to the eye-watering sourness.

Life, it seemed, was conspiring to remind me that nothing was the same as it once was.

My whole visit had reminded me of this fact.

On a whim, brought on by an Expedia flight flash sale, I had decided to go back to my university stomping grounds. I stayed with my college roommate, and we met up with another dear friend. We visited our old haunts, talked about everything, laughed a lot, showed each other our favorite new music, ate like we were still freshmen, and took an embarrassing amount of selfies. My soul was filled.

But accompanying the whole time was a slight ache.

Everything is different.

Things are changing.

You can’t get back what you once had.

This was particularly evident on our visit to my old favorite coffee shop, the Night Owl.

The Night Owl was our place during college. When I was a Resident Advisor, I escaped on Fridays to the high-back chairs and mediocre Americanos as a reprieve from the constant extroversion of my job. I wrote countless papers there. I fell in love with random strangers there. I had deep thoughts about the opening passages of Dante’s Inferno there. I ate too many ham and cheese croissants there. The baristas knew me.

And yet, as we sat that last day, Americanos in hand, I realized: I didn’t belong in the Night Owl anymore.

The place no longer held a context for me. It is a Walmart print in the photo album of my life. Californians with tan skin and hipster glasses slip in and out of the curtained front door with ease, but I feel too pale, and I don’t belong.

Everything is different.

Things are changing.

You can’t get back what you once had.

You can’t even order a Bacon and Gouda Breakfast Sandwich.

It is often said that the only thing you can count on in life is change. I don’t think this is entirely true. I think there are ties and roots stronger and deeper than the ceaseless beating forth of life. But change, in some things, even in most, is inevitable. Nothing remains static. To grow we must change, to live we must submit to change. And if that is true, a great deal of my life will be contingent on how I respond to change.

Grief and embrace.

These have characterized my last two years. I’ve found myself hurled forward by life, like hopping on a train that’s already pulling out of the station. My years have been marked by goodbyes, and hellos, in startlingly swift succession. I’m learning to live with my hands open.

And in this time, I’ve learned: all change begets and requires grief. To change is to lose what once was. Even if it’s a welcome change, loss is still experienced. Even in the best of life’s changes, there is something lost . . . something we must release and feel the emptiness of, before we can embrace what comes next in all its fullness.

As the ancient Preacher writes, “There is a time to embrace, and a time to turn away” (Ecclesiastes 3:5).

In change there is grief, and there is embrace, but I also believe that beating beneath the frantic dance of life, there is something sturdy and steady.

We live in uncertain times. I confess that sometimes I look at my world, the headlines, and the events of my own life and am stymied. I look at the lines deepening in the faces I love, and feel a tinge of something like fear and sadness. What will my world look like in 10, 20, 30 years? But perhaps it is not for me to know. Not until I get there. Omniscience surely isn’t a gift.

And yet, I find that in this gypsy life, there are roots in my heart that can’t be ripped up. Chords of love and faith that tether me.

Love. My love for my dear ones, my family, my closest friends is a root that means no matter where life takes me, I belong. In Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry describes “The Room of Love.” It is the space in our heart that we allow our loved ones into, and where their love stays no matter what. Near and far, life and death make no difference; the love and the beloved is ever present in our hearts. What could be more rooting than that? I give in love, and am given abundantly more. I choose to invest in love because it is the only thing that transcends fear and change. In the love I give and share, I always belong. No matter what change comes. And in that, I understand what John meant when he said love casts out fear. And that is good because it is so easy to be afraid.

Faith. Faith for me is a matter of trust. It is a covenant held between me and God in which my end of the deal is to lean into His love and trust that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Someday, at least. In my heart I find a spark of hope that, beating at the heart of the universe is not hate, or violence, or nothingness, but love. That tethers me. That sets me free to embrace change without fear, because I know the fearful things are not final.

And all these thoughts because of a bacon and gouda sandwich.

I’ve been in many airports since that Santa Ana evening. And I’ve seen so much change.

My sister got married.

I moved to another country.

I started grad school.

I’ve been in a veritable dance of release and embrace, hardly even letting my fingers close around the newness life has brought.

As I type in my new flat in Scotland, I’m flooded with images of the new and unfamiliar. I wonder what my airport rituals will become here, and what the new Bacon and Gouda sandwich will be for me now. Happy butterflies flutter in my belly. I think morosely and momentarily of how quickly this new context will pass.

But I quiet my mind. No need to go there yet.

I need only take the next step.

It’s time to board.


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