Have you ever picked up a book, beloved in your youth, and sat down to read, finding one of two things happens? Either you confirm why you loved this particular piece of literature and see new insights and gain deeper understanding or you wonder what was it about this book that you thought was so great a thousand years ago.
I have discovered this phenomenon on more than one occasion, the most startling of which was the first book I read by Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love. On the day Heinlein died in 1988, I decided to read everything he had written. A close friend, Henry Sponsler, had been a fan and promoter of the author’s work, and I thought this would be an appropriate and opportune time to follow Henry’s literary advice. I had heard the news of Heinlein’s death on the radio after getting off the night shift at the central mail facility in Austin where I worked as a “casual” or temporary employee. I drove to the mall bookstore and waited for it to open.
I was going through a divorce at the time and had no television; therefore, reading was close to my only option for escape. And read I did. I poured over everything I could find by Heinlein: multiple novels, many of which centered on his recurring characters from the Long family, and collections of short stories, the early ones especially experimented with the future of space travel.
That is, if I remember correctly. I may not. For after rereading Time Enough for Love, I lost interest in renewing that old friendship that had carried me through the depths of divorce-inspired depression and beyond. He no longer seemed the great author Henry had said (and I had confirmed) that he was. What happened?
That fellow that fell in Love with Heinlein in 1988 no longer exists. He is dead. Rereading those beloved books is like trying to run Windows 8 on a computer built for 3.1. It doesn’t work. I have been updated and remade continually since my first encounter with Lazarus Long. And the same is true in every aspect of my life. I am certainly more firm in my belief in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God than ever; but I am less sure of exactly how that belief should be manifest in my life. Jesus once said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own home.” That’s because all those people back home remember the 3.1 version of you that needs a floppy drive to run most programs. However, as time passes, we create newer, and hopefully, better versions of ourselves.
I recently bo ught a computer with Windows 8. I tend, as Will Nichols can attest, to like the most recent versions of Windows and Word. If nothing else, it makes me feel like I am keeping up with technology trends. Not so with Windows 8. I hated it. I hated it so much that I repaired, with Will’s guidance and assistance, my old compute in order to run the older, more familiar version.
I think this happens often in our relationships as well. We return to those we love and not only have we changed, but they have as well. We expect the reliable familiar and they present the new and innovative. Or they expect someone to appear that no longer exists. That person is dead along with Heinlein or perhaps with Lazarus Long who had his own form of rebirth, his own remaking. “You can never back” is not a myth. It is truth set in stone, and all we can hope for is to be the latest best versions of ourselves.