“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. – Thomas Merton, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
“… if only everybody could realize this…” Merton writes. “If only…”
I am more and more taken with the light around me, the light of day, as it creeps into the sky, moment to moment. I often reflect on earlier days of my life, when I was busy, busy with important meetings, busy with preoccupations as I drove from one important meeting to another important meeting, all the time missing, not seeing, the light all around and in me, and in others. Now, I think of my inability to see the obvious all those years as a loss, a loss I can never recover. And now, I want to remember.
Like Merton, I am silently saying: “If only…”
Across from the bedroom window of the home that I live in in Oakland, there is a crimson maple tree. I love that tree. I love it, especially, because for just a couple of days, every autumn, and just for a couple of minutes, as the sun sets over San Francisco Bay, the light shines just so on that crimson maple. And it is lit then, lit with a light that it has at no other time, at no other moment. I wait for those few moments. sometimes I come out the back door and onto the stoop to wait for the light to hit that tree, just so.
The crimson maple reminds me of the light that is within us. Like the crimson maple, you and I are light. As children, we are that light, but the wounds and frailties of our care-givers, our parents and others, force that light inward – unseen by others – little by little. They do this because their own light has been extinguished. It is our task to use our lives to wipe away all the debris that has hidden that light.
This is not an easy work in life. It’s hard. It hurts. It brings tears, and memories, and losses to our consciousness. You will need courage to embark on this work. If you choose to do this work, you will need a witness, some large and compassionate presence, to give space to the bringing forth of your wounds. There are many paths that allow this work, and you must find yours. That is your mission, if you choose to take it…
I am convinced that it is because we have forgotten the light that is us, that allows for all the hatred and fear in the world. When we look at someone who is not like us in some way – in any way – we see only the outer shell of that person, that person who is suffering, just like us. Murder and war and racism and poverty and greed are only some of the wounds that cover the light. The media is filled with shallow and brittle – and murderous – witnesses to this forgetting.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – “The Little Prince”, Antoine de Saint Exupéry