I marvel as I watch the tumbleweed dance across the landscape.
This is crazy. I’ve only seen this picture in the movies. The land looks arid, and it looks like dry, cracked skin. Actually, the land looks like I feel: parched. Amazingly, the atmosphere feels nothing like it looks. Any sane person that saw this picture would think I was in incredibly hot weather. But there’s no heat, no sweating. I am parched, though.
How am I here? WHY am I here? As far as I can see, there’s nothing but dry land. Even that tumbleweed is not visible anymore. Where the hell did it go? I start walking, and I occasionally see mountains in the distance. How do I “occasionally” see them? I have no idea. Maybe they are a mirage. I know I walk towards the mountains, but the they disappear, leaving me with dry, cracked land as far as I can see.
I’m not getting tired, either. I’m thirsty, but my thirst is not hindering my trek. This seems to be a walk that I am compelled to take. ‘Cause God knows that I don’t want to take this journey in this seemingly Godforsaken land. I’m still at a loss as to how I got here, and WHY I am here! Where the hell am I going? One thing for sure, standing pat does not seem to be an avenue of progression, so I’m going to have to KEEP trying to make it to those evaporating mountains.
Man, I’m glad that I don’t feel like the environment dictates I should feel physically. Why am I thinking things as trivial as that since there are more pressing issues here? I guess it’s ’cause I have time to think.
Well, now that I’m resigned to the fact that I’m in an unknown area and I have to move to get somewhere, I start talking to God as I walk. Actually, I started talking to God shortly after I saw that tumbleweed; but that was an initial response that wasn’t a genuine appeal to God. It was a nonthinking response that people casually do when realizing their in WAY over their heads. But my situation calls for more than a halfhearted appeal or perfunctory contemplation.
“Talking” is an inaccurate description. It is more of an inquiry, because the only response I want from God would answer where I am, how I got here, and why I am here?
Suddenly, my mind is afflicted with a montage. This montage is not addressing my immediate concerns, but it interests me, nonetheless. It seems like it’s playing slowly and deliberately. While some highlights are more shocking than others, I recognize that there is an alternate route available in each scenario. I’m quite saddened by many of the routes that were chosen.
The production ends, and somberness envelops me. In spite of the gravity of what I just saw, my being is flooded with a sense of clarity. The first thing I realize is that God has mercifully excused my insolent questioning and given me a tutorial, showed me what I needed to see. That montage was selected excerpts from my life. They were specifically selected to show the impact of my actions over time, mostly the pain I’ve inflicted and its residuals.
“Why am I here?” is no longer my concern. My spirit is now saturated with a new understanding that was born out of the revelatory montage, and now my concern is how I can help those whom I’ve harmed—along with others. My environment is of little consequence right now, but I have this nagging feeling that it is hindering something.
I notice that my thirst is completely gone, but now there is an intense hunger. This hunger causes me to look in all directions for something to sate my appetite. A “scent,” or some force that garners my attention, wafts into my nostrils and causes me to look behind me. When I look, I see road. Where the hell did that come from? Regardless, there’s nothing here for me, and that scent is compelling me more than anything to travel that road. But this yearning to satisfy my craving doesn’t seem like previous knee-jerk reactions to fulfill selfish desires. For some reason this feels…more right. The scent is compelling me, but so is an innate feeling, one that I’ve never noticed before.
I take to the road with no clear decision of which way to go or anything. Wait, I do have a guide: that scent. So that’s what I do, follow the scent.
I walk a little bit and notice a sign in the distance. As I get closer to it, I see what it says.
“You Are Now Leaving REFLECTION. Hope You Enjoyed Your Stay!”
I can’t necessarily say I “enjoyed” my stay, but I feel that my mind was opened in some way. And how do they expect someone to enjoy their stay there? Matter of fact, who are “they”? There was nothing there to enjoy. Well…I guess I “appreciate” seeing things differently now. But my hunger is pushing me down this road at an alarming pace, so I’ll reserve my thoughts about that sign for now.
I continue to walk on what looks to be a long, seldom-traveled road. I see no cars coming in the distance from either way. As I walk more, I notice a family ahead, looking like they’re in some sort of distress. I’m sure I didn’t see them a minute ago, but maybe I’m not paying attention to the time and distance that I’ve been walking. Anyway, I jubilantly stop to help this family, feeling enthused as I am able to help them in their time of need. I move on after I’m done, thankful that the encounter has distracted me from the hunger pangs that plague me.
I’m surprised that my trek is not tiresome at all; actually, my chance meeting with that family left me slightly invigorated. On this road, numerous opportunities to help others are suddenly visible, and I assist in each one. I can’t help but wonder whether these opportunities are just appearing or I’m seeing things through a different lens.
Not all of the chances to help involve families. There are individuals in some of these chance encounters, and sometimes there are entities. Some of the help I provide result in a reward, but not all. I don’t feel the need for gratitude, though, and my assistance is feeling like the proverbial “pot of gold.”
Now that I think about it, helping that family didn’t distract me from my hunger pangs. My hunger was slightly sated after I helped them. And after each encounter after that, my hunger waned more and more. The farther I get down this road, the more satisfied I am, without even eating a morsel.
I don’t know how long I’ve been walking and I don’t know how many people I’ve helped, but I feel like I can go on this road forever. But from the look of that sign up ahead, this road has an end.
“Welcome To Redemption, Population: Hopefully Increasing—Room For All!”
I see the town behind the sign. Redemption? I can’t wait to see what it looks like in there.
The road stops at what looks to be the entrance of the town. I step into the town and I’m inundated with a feeling of tranquility. But at the same time, I’m also having a nagging feeling. It’s my hunger. I’m not incredibly hungry anymore, but I just feel like there’s plenty of room for more. That’s weird. Is it possible to be at peace and hungry at the same time?
“How are you feeling, sir? Glad you could make it.”
Whoa! In the blink of an eye, a woman and a man are standing in front of me with welcoming smiles. I’m so stunned by their instantaneous presence that I don’t even know who it was that spoke to me. I’m stunned but not afraid; I feel their warmth.
“Hey, I just came from—”
The woman cuts me off, but not in a haughty manner. It seems sort of protective, like she’s trying to stop me before I say too much.
“We don’t care where you came from. Everyone in Redemption has come from somewhere. From where they come is irrelevant. Being here is what matters,” she says.
“You just came from Reflection, right? Most people that are here came through there. Reflection is a nice rest stop, but that’s just what it is: a rest stop,” the man says.
“Staying in Reflection for too long may help you see things differently, but it offers you nothing in the way of opportunity,” the woman says, sounding like an attentive, caring teacher.
“And you lacking the opportunity to act on what you’ve learned offers nobody anything, especially those who you’ve harmed,” the man adds.
The back-and-forth between this woman and man sounds like a choreographed pitch, but I appreciate its tutelage and don’t see it as some type of solicitation.
In unison they say, “Come on, sir, let’s get you settled in.”
“But I don’t have any money or anything,” I reply.
The understanding expressions on their faces and the slight nod of their heads convey that they have heard this response before and are prepared to address it. The woman is first to accept the task of assuaging my spirit.
“In Redemption, you don’t need those things. In Redemption, nothing is required. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll understand more the longer you stay here. For right now the explanation is that we have a sort of ‘honor system.’”
“What do you mean ‘nothing is required’? What kind of honor system are y’all operating on?” I ask, feeling completely confounded.
This “choreographed” speech must have left room for improv, because the man begins to speak as if my questions were his cue.
“Sir, we strive to make Redemption the most genuine place on Earth. Requirements are sometimes burdens, and burdens can rob certain situations of genuineness. Would you rather make someone love you or have them love you genuinely from their heart? Even though there are things that need to be done here in Redemption, things that need to be fixed, we’d rather a person do it from their heart instead of being compelled. If a person is compelled to do something, it’s not done wholeheartedly. And if a person gets the opportunity to avoid things they are compelled to do, what do you think they’ll do?”
I’m listening to the man’s words and I think of how both of their speeches seem to sound melodic, and I feel like I’ve been entranced by them. But a bit of my old, unthinking self still existed, and this stuff wasn’t registering completely with me.
“Honor system? This town just relies on the people to pretty much offer assistance, money, or whatever else? You don’t ink people will take advantage of that?” I quiz, trying to inform them under the guise of questions.
“Vernon,” the woman says softly, and to my surprise, “Redemption is not predicated on what another force wants to do for us or against us. Redemption thrives on our innate desire to do good, consequences be damned. That desire was born out of a realization that some of our past deeds were selfish and hurt people. So now we want to use our selfishness to help others. I call it ‘our selfishness’ because our actions ultimately are results of our desires to do something; but I think being selfish for the sake of others offers more to the world.”
That last sentence must have been a segue for the man.
“Vernon, when you helped people along that road, did you want something in return?”
No, I wanted nothing in return for my aid. I felt I needed to do those things. The compulsion came from within, from my gut. That time in Reflection made me realize I owe. I owe those I’ve hurt and I owe humanity. The hunger that I had is within me and nudging me subtly. And the town of Redemption is making me notice it more.
“You know what? C’mon, I think I’ll stay a while,” I say, happily relenting to their pitch.
I owe humanity, as do we all. Some more than others. But redemption can only start from within. If we think we can make someone redeem themselves, then we are searching for disaster.
Redemption is open to everyone—at least it should be!