Thursday evening I loaded up my car with light luggage and sewing supplies for my Sunday date then set off for Grand Rapids. As excited as I was, I couldn’t have imagined how perfectly this weekend would be orchestrated.
Like usual, I was racing the clock on the road. By some miracle, I made it to Calvin College’s confusing campus with nearly 10 minutes to spare, despite having had to make a recordly quick pit stop on the two hour drive (there are some downsides to being too hydrated). Just as I was about to ask a stranger to point me in the right direction my friend Lindsey Slot (otherwise known as Spicy) called. “Hi, Grace! I’m at the Faith & Writing Festival at Calvin. I don’t have much time to talk, because the next thing is starting in like 5 minutes, but I wanted to let you know I might be able to slip away to hear you talk at Cornerstone.”
“That’s exciting! But are you waiting to hear Jonathan Safran Foer? Because I just got here to hear him.” Of course, she was. Once I found my way to the arena, that had been converted into an auditorium, I met up with she and a friend sitting in chairs in the back row on the same floor as the stage.
From her nickname, Spicy, you might imagine that my friend has fair skin, fiery hair and a hot blooded Irish temperament. She couldn’t be more different. Instead imagine the girl-next-door with a sweet spirit, wavy brown hair and a slightly Mediterranean /Middle Eastern complexion. Like my nickname, Grace, hers is ironic. Our nicknames were given to us by Cornerstone’s philosophy professor Dr. Bonzo, somewhat as a joke, during a philosophy conference we went to in our undergrad. Having agreed that it’s weird having a friend with the same name, we prefer our nicknames.
Not long after I’d settled in with them, I asked if we might want to move closer to the stage. “I forgot you’re a front row person,” Spicy said. Hardly two seconds later, Logan walked up. After introductions, he let me know he’d saved us two seats closer to Foer. Spicy and her friend, happy with their seats, gave me permission to join him. Though we didn’t sit with them, Logan and I left with them. From that night forward he would continue to run into Spicy and her friend at the Festival. (Luckily so since he lost his phone Friday afternoon and she graciously let him use her phone each night to let me know where to pick him up). By Saturday evening, they had become good enough acquaintances that he extended an invitation for her to join us at his home for Pho that evening. Sadly, she had to give him a raincheck.
I had no idea what to expect from Foer. I hadn’t watched any youtube videos of him. Besides reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I’d only read one article on him that Logan sent me and heard from a friend who once met him that he is a pretentious jerk (I took that last comment with a grain of salt because a lot of great people give terrible first impressions). He is more attractive and slighter of frame in person than he appears in the picture I posted last week. His talk was more humorous than I was expecting though also meaningful.
The title of his session was “Reading Between the Lines” but that doesn’t capture what he spoke of. He spoke of his influences, of the artists whose work and lives and relationships have shaped the person he is becoming, whose voices now run under his own. If he wanted to leave all of us with any advice, it was with the commandments that he heard as a teenager said by a Hebrew poet. The poet said that God should have added two commandments to the 10: Don’t change. Change.
Foer took that advice to mean that we should always retain a little of the restlessness and angst of youthfulness, that idealism that can keep us up at night, that burning desire and belief that we can make a better world. But also we must mature, we must grow into adulthood. We must learn to love the world, as much as we yearn to better it.
For me, Foer’s words would be reiterated in another way by Brian Walsh the following evening when he would tell those of us, at Cornerstone’s Philosophy conference, that we must have a sense of hunger and that our art, work and lives must make people hungry. Hungry for God, hungry for a new, better kingdom now. This hunger should drive us, and compel others.
Foer and Walsh reminded me of a conversation I had with my best friend Julie a few months back. I was troubled that yet another person had called me exhausting. This time it was, “We could never date because you’re too exhausting.” Another time it was, “You’re hard to love, you’re so exhausting.” And so on. I’m exhausting because I’m hungry, because I crave too much from life and conversations and communities. Because I won’t accept the world’s terms and instead I’ll challenge them. I’m exhausting because I push everyone and myself and the world to be more than it is, better than it is.
Julie said, “Lindsey, this exhausting quality about you is also your best quality. Think about us our freshman year. I was so bitter against God. I had all these rational arguments about why God was an asshole. You used to spend hours and hours and hours arguing against me that God is good, proving that my arguments were wrong. We had the same conversations over and over again until you helped me to change my mind. It’s because you’re exhausting that you could do that. I’m so glad you were. Think of all the people I could have influenced to hate God if I’d kept spewing my bitter reasoning.”
Her words were comforting. Like Foer’s friend who finds it harder and harder to sleep at night and yet finds more and more meaning in her days, there is a cost for being hungry, being exhausting, being changed but unchanging. It is a restless way to live, but it is the most rewarding for ourselves and our world as long as our restlessness provokes action, sparks conversations, creates an opening for something new and needed to be born into the world.
I’m glad my weekend began with Foer and running into Spicy. It was an excellent start to a weekend packed with powerful words and meaningful conversations. Tomorrow, you’ll get to hear more of the story.
If you have a Twitter, feel free to keep up with me @LindseyReneeGc.