His shock of gray hair was just long enough to skim his shoulders and he was continually adjusting his fingers on the microphone. He was the warm-up act, and though the years of experience shown in the creases around his eyes, the amplified sound of his throat, when he cleared it, told me that stage fright isn’t just for the young. He called himself the Ice Cowboy’ and though dozens of poets would speak their piece during the evening, the laughter in his voice as he said, “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine” branded the phrase in my brain. Weeks later, those are the only words I still remember from the evening, even though he wasn’t their originator.
Well, I’ve graduated from college. There were so many years of build up to that moment and I took a breath, blinked my eyes and it was gone and past already.
They filed our sea of blue robes and strangely geometric hats onto the stage of the De Jong Concert Hall at BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center. It seemed somehow appropriate to end my college experience the way that I spent it, treading the boards and staring out at neat rows of expectant audience members. The keynote speaker had video clips as part of his presentation and so a screen was lowered over the front of the stage, and we graduates were thrust into darkness. It felt familiar to look out from the darkness like that, waiting in the wings for some wonderful show to begin.
I realized as I admired the pointed silhouettes of the rows of graduates in front of me against the warm house lights that that’s exactly what we are all doing. We sit, nervous and eager in the dark wings of our lives waiting for that moment where the lights come up and the show begins.
Arguably, my show has long since begun, but not like this. Never like this. This fall will be the first since I was five years old that I won’t be starting a new school year. Suddenly life isn’t tethered to an institution and I can make it whatever I want it to be. There’s something intoxicating about the raw potential teeming from every direction; my show stands at this moment as a performance of pure possibility.
I felt this way once before. My time at the Jerusalem Center when I was just a freshman made me feel like my whole life was ahead of me and I anticipated the coming attractions with excitement. Upon my return to the Jerusalem Center three weeks ago, I realized how little of my life since then actually went the way that 19-year-old me thought that it would.
It isn’t that I’m disappointed with where I am now. I see with clarity the way that who I’ve become to this point in my life is completely a product of my experience—including and perhaps most especially a product of the failures and rejections. I like who I am in this moment. I wouldn’t change the way that it actually went down for some imagined better option, but being back in that same holy airspace was like looking my former, more anxious self in the face and telling her that those wishes she made on golden Galilee sunsets were a farce.
It is strange sometimes to know that the life you’re living now isn’t just one alternative or a set of possible outcomes, it’s permanent. This isn’t just the way college might have gone-that was it. The chasm I continually find between what I thought might be and what actually is, is always jarring in the moments that I look down and observe it fully. Being back at the Jerusalem Center was like walking down the stairs in the middle of the night and thinking there is still one more step at the bottom. You still get where you wanted to go, maybe you even get there faster, but you can’t avoid that sick feeling in your stomach that comes from the shock of reality not being what you expected.
College has been glorious. It actually turned out better than I could’ve expected because the younger me that formed all of those expectations was so limited in her scope, she couldn’t have imagined the things I would learn or the places I would go. She didn’t even know those things existed.
I have met the most incredible people; I am endlessly astounded by them. I love them more than I could ever have loved the people I imagined I’d meet because they are real, they are complicated, they are challenging and I have the opportunity to discover them and admire them in new and unexpected ways every day. My mind and my heart and my soul have been expanded and I would never trade that growth for simpler, more straightforward and satisfied life strides.
The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.
But sometimes I feel like my own progression is moving too gradually for my own taste. I feel a primordial sense of my fullest most dynamic self, rumbling under the surface and it is disappointing that she can’t rush to the forefront and cancel out the long months and years of struggling with weaknesses and inadequacies and shortcomings before she and I are one and the same again.
Just when I feel like I have really figured out one area of my life, it’s always that area that pitches the next curve ball. I’m starting to find out that there’s never going to be a time when every area is at its utmost and life is purring along in perfect harmony. Even in the long-awaited celebration of my graduation those millstones continued to grind.
I’m learning to be pleased with it.
Even in those moments when I sense the strength of my pre-mortal identity, some very human part of myself would still be satisfied with just shutting down production and halting the mill where I’m at right now despite the coarseness of my grain. I appreciate that the Lord knows better than that. I am glad that His notion of my potential doesn’t sit satisfied with now. I feel such an abundance of love from Him and yet I’m realizing everyday that He sees more for me than I see for myself. What a rush to know that even my high expectations of myself fall so far short of what I can actually be with his help. With that thought I’ll rejoice in the slowness of the grind.
The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. I look forward to being rendered exceedingly fine through Him.