“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” -1 Corinthians 13:12
Two things are true of humankind. We want to know and to be known. Whether you see this world framed by a divinity or not, these two pursuits, in large part, rule our lives from cradle to grave.
I started a brand new teaching job two years ago. Standing in the atrium during an in-service event, I scanned the sea of faces, all new to me. I felt thoroughly lost in that moment. I had moved from a school where I knew the history of every square inch, and the stories of everyone who worked there. I had moved from a school where I was known by a generation of students and their families. I had moved to a school where I was utterly unknown. My heart pounded in my chest.
As I was standing among a group of teachers, my head lost in a cloud of uncertainty, a softly hummed tune hit my left ear. I recognized it instantly . . . a familiar Ole Miss football chant. “Hotty Toddy” rang from my lips as I looked up at the tall but boyish figure standing beside me. “Ole Miss fan?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “You?”
“When I was a kid, for sure,” I responded. “I grew up about 40 minutes from Oxford. In Tupelo.”
“No way. Me too,” he answered.
Tupelo is still a relatively small place, but judging by the differences in our ages, I figured we had very few shared friends or acquaintances.
“My maiden name was Whitwell,” I offered, thinking the conversation would drift off quickly with a singular Mississippi hometown connection.
“Not Dr. Earl Whitwell?” he asked, his eyes widening. Immediately, I assumed he had broken something as a child, and Dad had patched him up.
“He was my father,” I said. What happened next bordered on the bizarre.
“Wait . . . wait,” he stuttered. “I live in your house.” I blinked, staring at him, incredulously. “No, I mean, my family bought your house. On Allyson Drive?”
My childhood family home. It’s located on a hill in a subdivision in north Tupelo. Sitting atop the highest elevation in town, I used to pretend it was Everest. My mom and dad built it in 1980. I moved there at the age of 9. It holds most of my childhood secrets and informed a lot of my adolescent ambitions. In my mind, it is still home. After my parent’s divorce, my dad would sell it a few years later. He would sell it to Ben’s family. The Gatlins. Ben was 12.
Both of us reeling from this ridiculous coincidence, we shouted and fell a few steps backward. Suddenly, he asked, “What room . . . what room was your bedroom?”
“Top left corner.”
I lost it. Our two childhood selves had shared the same room, in the same house, on the same street, in the same subdivision, in the same town, in the same state. Two decades apart.
I went from unknown to known in a two-minute conversation. And it wasn’t just being known that resonated for me. I felt home, one more time. Rolling in a pile of leaves in the front yard or swinging high off the tree swing my dad hung one sunny afternoon. Running barefoot on hard brick toward the smell of my mom’s sumptuous summer suppers. Rose bushes, honeysuckle, azaleas . . . freedom from responsibility and mostly shielded from pain. Home.
No matter what else we attempt to achieve on this planet, feeling known will be one of the most important to us. One of the most cherished. One of the most valued. We hold tightly those who know us and still love us. We long for that feeling to last and when it dissipates like a heavy fog in the sunlight (as it must always do), we begin the chase again in earnest. Our souls somehow understand there is a “known completely” and a “known forever.” We just know it. In this realm; however, we are forced to live in the tension of that unfulfilled desire. But there is a day coming. And in one instant and in one glance, our exhausting quest will be put to rest. And we will all finally be home.