How would you interpret this picture? A snapshot of isolation? A glimpse of alienation, abandonment, or some other form of homelessness?
Though I appear to be a poster child for neglect in this photo, it is actually one of my favorite pictures from college, not only because it is absurdly unlike my actual experience there, but because the story behind it provides a little parable about home.
Here’s the story: my senior year of college, I attended a retreat organized by my good friend Dave. About halfway through the weekend, Dave led us all to a hill and explained that we would be playing a game. The goal was for all participants to reach the top of the hill. Since we were hardly ascending a treacherous peak, this seemed easy enough. However, Dave quickly complicated this quest: we would all be forced to keep our eyes shut throughout the game, and, after being scattered across the hill by Dave and his helpers, we must find our way to the top “blind.” We dutifully squinched our eyes shut and let ourselves be led some distance from the top of the hill. Before Dave gave the signal to begin our search, however, he walked around, quietly inflicting additional disabilities on some of us. Some were told they could not hear, and must not respond to anyone who might call for them; a few were made mute; others were told they could not walk, and must beg others to carry them up the hill. I was privileged to receive all these impairments, and so after Dave’s signal, I could only sit in silence as the others wandered upward more and less quickly. Soon all the able-bodied players had reached the summit, and they began sending parties out to retrieve the crippled ones who were calling out, as well as a few of a few of the mute ones, who had not been able to ask others for guidance up the hill.
This photo was taken as I waited--deaf, dumb, legless-- wondering how in the world I was supposed to take charge of my ascent, and whether I could drag myself up the hill without ruining my skirt was grass stains. I had little hope that anyone would find me: after all, everyone still had their eyes closed, and we had not bothered to count ourselves before beginning the game. I felt guilty, thinking that soon everyone would open their eyes, and Dave would announce that we had fallen short, failing to reach the top all together.
Looking at this picture five years later, I imagine my plight is similar to the way many young adults feel about home. We inherit visions of a certain version of domestic bliss, receive promises of finding a home in friendships or romances, or listen to prophecies about a Church that is proven by its love--but even if we believe, or want to believe, these promises, we find ourselves wandering in the dark, unable even to articulate our need for something better than what we have. Maybe we drag ourselves, inch by inch, in the direction that seems best to us. Maybe we resign ourselves to life on the side of the hill. Maybe we even convince ourselves that it is better to sit on the solid ground than to dream of standing on a summit we have no hope of reaching.
If my meditation ended there, this picture would be too painful to share. However, had the photographer snapped this picture just a few minutes later, you would see two of my “blind” friends hauling me rather awkwardly up the hill.
To my surprise, someone eventually realized I was the only one not gathered at the top of the hill. Soon, several pairs of searchers, still constrained by their own blindness, came down to seek me. I could not respond to their calls, but eventually one pair found me and managed to carry me to the top of the hill. Only when we were altogether at the top were we allowed to see, to talk, and (in my case), to stand.
Years later, the memory of this game still comforts and challenges me. It prompts me to give thanks for all the times I have been carried home, literally and spiritually: thanks for my parents, who carried their newborn daughter home so many years ago; thanks for the ways God’s people gathered me in when I blinded with depression and anxiety; thanks for the friends who carry one another--playfully, patiently, prayerfully--whenever there is need.
So many days, home is a place we are carried.
More often, I feel myself capable of climbing, however blindly, in the right direction up the hill. On really beautiful days, I know I am already enjoying some of the fresh air and good company at the summit. On those days, my duty is not to celebrate an easy ascent, but to call and listen for those who haven’t made it. As a person with a wealth of economic, personal, and educational resources, I should be looking for ways to use these strengths to help carry others. As the Church, we should be looking for those who are missing, and sending out others to find those who need our arms, our legs, and our voices.
Can you think of someone who has brought you home when you could not bring yourself? Who are the mute and crippled ones in your life and community who may need you to carry them?