On most evenings, I find myself walking through our dark backyard to dump food scraps on our compost heap. Coming from our bright, well-lit house, I can’t see much on the way to the compost heap. There is a backyard light, but I haven’t taken the time to fix it since it burned out a year or two ago.
Dark shapes loom up on either side. Because I’ve seen the backyard in other light, I know it’s just the trampoline, then the shed. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t have the compost heap when we watched the first season of Stranger Things, because that short walk would have been pretty terrifying.
Last night was different, however. I walked out and the entire yard was lit up in the soft light of the full moon. I could identify everything I saw. Just the reflected light from the moon was enough to entirely change the character of the backyard from a potential Halloween nightmare, to a pleasant place to spend a minute or two in the evening.
In our interactions with the people around us, most often we are out on a dark night, with only the light of the stars and maybe a sliver of moon to provide illumination into their lives. We see dark shapes and rough outlines, but not much more. To discern what those shapes are, we need to spend time with people, allowing our eyes to adjust so we can make out some details about the shapes in the lives of others.
Occasionally, circumstances give us a full moon. For various reasons – shared challenges, shared interests, whatever leads to things “clicking,” we can see what makes the shapes in their lives. We understand those people on a level deeper than the average person in our lives.
And, of course, there is the rare occurrence of the person we see in broad daylight. We not only see the shape and details, but all the vivid colors of their life. We share in the beauty of their lives. Spouses, children, siblings, best friends. These people are rare for most of us.
Seeing another person in the light of the full moon or in daylight depends on circumstances beyond our control. Perhaps I think of it in this manner because I’m not a socially adept person. I can’t easily identify why I was able to connect deeply to a few people over the course of my life. But I do think there are choices we can make to see people with greater light.
First, I can choose to connect more frequently. I wouldn’t see my backyard in different lights if I weren’t going out there every night. I don’t spend as much time out there as my wife and children would like, but I do try to walk out the back door at least once a day. We can’t expect to understand a person after only one conversation or even a few. It takes repeated contact.
Second, I can choose to connect in different circumstances. I can easily identify the dark shapes in my backyard at night because I’ve seen them during the day. If my only interactions with other people are when I cross paths with them for work or when I’m taking the kids to school or in abbreviated social media comments and replies, I’ll never get the opportunity to see them in a different light. I’ll never get the chance to see anything other than those dark outlines.
Third, we can choose to spend more time with others. Frequent short contacts in different circumstances aren’t enough if a conversation is never sustained for more than a few minutes. Even on the darkest night, if I spend a few minutes outside, I begin to make out more details of the shapes around me. I may not see the texture of the shed’s walls, but I begin to identify the edge of the roof and the corners.
Finally, why does this all matter? Why would we want to connect more deeply with those around us? Maybe I’m just an introvert and that is ok? Regardless of our comfort level, whatever the light, we have a path to walk in this life. We need to keep moving forward.
If we do nothing to understand the dark shapes around us, fear and pain will result. Without any context for why those around us act the way they do, without seeking to know why they make their choices, we will waste away in darkness, lashing out at things we don’t understand.
There is a better option. By seeking the greater light, we will see the beauty in the lives around us. And even if what we see is ugly and broken, how can we offer help if we don’t know what is wrong? We will never see the true problem without looking in the light.
I can’t choose to go through this life alone, or with just the few people I have already seen in the light of day. I will continue to meet and interact with new people. My greatest fear isn’t the dark. It is the refusal to look in the light.
What I read before writing this post:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.1 Corinthians 13:12