This summer, I’ve celebrated, laughed, had water balloon fights, argued, talked, sung, cried, and run into the ocean alongside youth who are both wonderful and exasperating. And I am convinced, time and time again, that they are the light of the world. They are
the playful and musical and thoughtful and messy and radiant image of God. They are “rascally inventions of holiness abounding,” in the words of Gregory Boyle, and they remember that they belong to each other, on several occasions being quick to remind me of this. “Aww, what cute friends,” I said to JJ and J and a few other youths as they walked in a stumbly line together ahead of me, arms thrown over each other’s shoulders, tripping and giggling and running into things. “We’re not friends,” J said matter-of-factly in the way she says most things, turning around sharply. “We’re family.” Then she turned back around and kept prancing forward with her family, some literal and some chosen.
I attended my first dunking baptism this summer at the pool. M sat next to me as her sister MS was being baptized. After Helms lifted her head back up from the blue pool water, she gave her salt to put on her tongue, telling her, “You are the salt of the earth.” From beside me, M said, “PERIOD.” Handing her a tea candle, Helms said, “You are the light of the world.” And M said, “PERIOD!!!” And, really, I think it’s as simple as that. Another quote from Gregory Boyle: “Jesus says ‘You are the light of the world.’ I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say, ‘One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.’ He doesn’t say ‘If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.’ No. He says, straight out, ‘You are light.’” Period.
I’ve been grateful to share a lot of joyful moments with light-filled people this summer, just as I’ve spent time talking and crying with the youth about the pain they are subjected to at a young age in the forms of gun and police violence. I felt a part of the terror and anger they felt when experiencing a heated, racist interaction between some young men in our youth group and the police of a rural town in North Carolina. Everyone made it out all right, but the interaction was terrifying, and it triggered waves of grief and
anger in the group that we spent several hours that night processing. We are all still processing this event that so clearly exemplified the way black people are criminalized and met with forces of violence while simply trying to exist. White supremacy has blinded white people (and especially these white police) to the truth: that those young black men, whose guilt was assumed, who were being handcuffed and manhandled at the fair in rural NC, carry the light of the world within them. We have forgotten that they are beloved, and that we belong to each other.
On an August evening this summer, while cicadas hummed loudly in the trees and mosquitoes nipped at our heels, we played beep ball, a version of softball that has been adapted for the blind. We all put on blindfolds and hit a beeping softball into the darkness. Then we ran to a base, where someone else stood, shouting “Here! Here!” so we would know where to go. I ran to M as she shouted “Here! Here!” Everything in me wanted to slow down and stop running so fast because I couldn’t see a thing, but the game required sprinting ahead anyway. M’s voice got louder and louder and finally I crashed into the base and into M, who put her hand out to steady me. We both laughed. “You’re here now,” she said. It was a comforting feeling of arrival.
We’re all blind, and we’re all calling to each other, and we must listen to each other even when it’s not easy to see. It may not be easy to trust someone else’s familiarity with something we’ve never experienced before. But we must listen to each other. We must trust the vision and experience of others, because we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other, and that our fates should be tied up together. We need to run forward until our neighbor’s vision becomes our shared vision. We must pay attention to the holy light that is present in every one of us, and we must keep running and calling out to each other, even when we don’t understand, even when our desire to protect ourselves screams at us to stop and stand still in the confusion. If we accept our limited vision as the truth (it’s not), and if we refuse to run forward because we are too scared or it’s too dark, some of us might not make it home.
Langley Hoyt was a Summer Communities of Service (SCOS) volunteer this past summer at QC Family Tree. She is a recent graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina.