Seventeen (and a half) years ago, I knelt in this spot under a blue sky and asked my girlfriend to marry me.
Wifey and I would take long walks away from our on-base dorms, strolling through lawns and parks, up and down the hills on Kadena. We’d often sit on a bridge, under the stars, legs dangling off the side, hand-in-hand. Or perhaps she’d snuggle up next to me, head on my shoulder as I put my arm around her to hold her close.
There used to be a bridge here.
You can see two marks where the edges once stood. I proposed on that bridge. When we married, Wifey came from the States to rejoin me on Okinawa. And sometimes we would revisit “our” bridge. I’m pretty sure we even took our oldest children to see it (not that they cared, of course. They were very young, and it was just a concrete bridge.)
In the grass across from where the bridge once stood, I laid down under a cloudy night sky, crying out to God, overwhelmed with frustration and anger at myself for various failures as a new adult and Airman. I
dealt with my dissatisfaction with mistakes I’d made, and I thought about my childhood faith.
It was there that I decided I had to really live what I claimed to believe, or forsake it all. I chose the former.
(Rationally, I understand that there’s no theological reason to look for God up in the sky, as though He lives out in space somewhere and we all live down here like some fishbowl He watches when He gets bored.
Rationally, I know that the universe goes on for billions and billions of light years with whole other galaxies comprised of nearly-countless stars spinning and swirling through a cosmos full of other stuff we can’t even yet comprehend. So my musings as I sat in the grass staring at the night sky were pretty insignificant in the scale of what we know is out there.)
Back then, Wifey and I would walk for hours. And with Okinawa being a Pacific island, we sometimes got caught in sudden cloudbursts of rain.
One time in particular, the rain became a torrent and we took refuge in the doorway of the nearest building, a couple blocks away from our dorms.
It rained for an hour or more, solid sheets pouring from the heavens. Finally we got so desperate that we prayed. “God, I know it’s silly… But could You stop the rain so we can get home? Please?”
We went back to talking. Several moments later, when our conversation paused, we realized it was silent outside our refuge. The rain stopped.
We set off for the dorms, shocked and thankful. And just as we reached our dorms, a drizzle started up again.
(Rationally I know that rain can start and stop at any time, and an island like Okinawa has unpredictable weather. There are perfectly natural explanations for how this happened.)
Years later, I had a similar experience on the way to work. In a torrential downpour, I prayed for the rain to stop even while admitting it was a purely selfish request.
It did, and I walked into my building dry when all my co-workers who arrived both before and after me were soaked. The disparity was noticeable enough that people actually asked how I got in.
(Rationally, rain is intermittent sometimes. This one experience is no reliable proof. And there have been times I’ve prayed, but still got wet.)
For years, when I drove past the bridge or jogged around the nearby track, I would see the bridge and smile. I would remember my promise to Wifey, or maybe think of my re-commitment to Christ. And I understood why various Old Testament figures were so quick to set up a monument (usually rocks piled into an altar) for special moments in their experiences with God. Spatial memory–our ability to recall a particular place or setting–is a powerful thing.
Rocks can get tipped over or scattered. Bridges can be torn down. Buildings are destroyed and rebuilt (or not).
But spatial memory locks a moment or concept in our minds to a specific place, and that doesn’t fade or break down over time.
Rationally, I know there are plenty of facts about the world around us, some of which can seem to conflict with faith as I currently understand it.
On the one side are the experiences and the intangible unprovable tenets of faith.
On the other side sit the cold logical facts and all their implications about the world and humanity’s place in it.
It often feels like quite a formidable gap divides the two.
That’s okay. There’s a special place in my heart for bridges.