“Promise me we’ll never stop going on adventures,” she said to me as we stared at the stars.
It was the middle of June, 2013. I remember because the song—“Middle of June” by Noah Gundersen—was playing in the car speakers. I had played it that night as I do several times every June during pivotal moments.
We were parked by a towering tree beside the beach on Cape Cod, and a gentle breeze lifted the leaves while Bita and I stargazed.
“We won’t,” I told her.
Neither of us were looking at the other as we hung out the side of the car, staring at the chiaroscuro stars bursting like tattoos from the night’s darkness. At the time, I believed it. I believed with all the blistering passion of a 22-year-old that she and I would never stop exploring the earth as amigos.
Bita’s a gorgeous Venezuelan the same age as me and we had met the summer before in K Mart. Well, technically we met in high school and befriended each other on Facebook in the days when you befriended everyone you’ve ever seen across a full cafeteria. We never talked.
Then in 2012 I messaged her and we struck up a playful conversation. I was in Africa or Boston at the time, and I told her I was moving to the Cape that summer to live on the beach and teach paddleboarding lessons.
When I arrived on the peninsula, I met up with some old friends and we went to K Mart to play “The Wal-Mart Game,” where you divide into multiple teams and both teams fill a shopping cart with 26 items, one for each letter of the alphabet. Then trade carts with a different team and try to beat them at returning the merchandise to its proper shelf. She dove in with my friends and I.
That night kicked off one of—if not the—greatest summer of my life. I was homeless, tan beyond repair (I had a crisply printed waistband tan line for two years), and had two ridiculously close friends, Elbita and our friend Derek. The three of us echoed a thousand summers had before us by others on Cape Cod, the magical jetty into the Atlantic which seems to never weary of enchanting its inhabitants summer after summer.
I took several flights to Nigeria for meetings, which baffled my coworkers at the surf shop: “Why is this homeless beach bum flying to Nigeria for a week for ‘meetings’?” We house sat in Dennis and escaped brutal rainstorms under the awning of an ancient seafood shanty which the Cape seems to be lousy with.
We took not one, but two spontaneous trips to New York City to eat cheeseburgers and randomly meet Tim Keller.
We swam in ponds and the ocean, explored abandoned playgrounds, and followed trails through the woods while rain pounded the greenery all around us. We dove off of docks and laughed a lot. Our little trio seemed so packed full of chemical energy that we could have seen that summer unfold for thirty months rather than three.
Inevitably, summer ended as it always does, which meant I had to head to Chicago for my first year at Bible college.
I texted Derek and Elbita about our inside jokes regularly. I made new friends at school, as did they.
The next June was when Bita and I found ourselves beside some beach—only God remembers which one of the thousands it was—staring at the sky.
The waves sang their ancient song along the coast, and Noah Gundersen crooned through the car speakers and I made a promise to my friend in the darkness.
As I spoke the words, I honestly imagined us aboard ships sailing to new continents, or backpacking tropical trails sprawling the Asian mountains. Bita, Derek, and I, the three amigos.
I broke a promise.
Derek wasn’t with us that night, but he was understood to be invited.
The two of them married two other people and as I remain single—and the most mobile—I wonder if I should have run around making such grand promises at the ripe old age of 22. After all, as Chesterton has pointed out, only fools make vows and I have never claimed to be much more than a fool.
The problem with vows is that they assume the same passion, emotion, and zeal that you feel in the moment of their conception. Vows also assume that you’ll be the same person in 1, 5, 10 years, which no 22-year-old will ever be.
Promises and vows assume that life will always be like it is now.
Or maybe, they assume the promise will be easier if life remained the same.
But life in the 2020’s is anything but static, as is every human’s 20’s. Perhaps the world is just going through a growth phase like the turbulent decade of self-discovery we all go on, which I am soon exiting.
Reflecting on my 20’s and that starry night beside Elbita is interesting, and perhaps I didn’t break a vow so much as evolve it. I never stopped exploring the world, nor did I ever stop loving my two friends. We never had a falling out, just maybe a drifting apart.
My 20’s changed me and I’ll be surprised if I don’t squeeze in a few more changes and bumps before they’re over in, ironically, the middle of June.
But if Elbita and her husband called me up tomorrow, asking to take a trip to Israel, or traversing south to Cape Horn, I suppose a promise would have to be kept.
Ah, to be 22 again. I am three times that now, and God is still good.
22? I graduated from college, was a substitute teacher, joined a world-wide missionary organization, raised my financial support, moved from the family farm in Indiana to urban Philadelphia, and then out to Los Angeles. WHEW!