Yesterday, I was taking a walk and this story (parable? fable?) came to me out of nowhere so I came home and wrote it all down, and it made me feel brave and hopeful.
Once upon a time there was a town that had fallen into horrible disrepair. The houses were crumbling from neglect, enormous potholes had rendered the roads nearly undrivable, lewd graffiti covered every square inch of the great town hall, the air reeked of sewage, and the litter on the beach and in the parks was nearly two feet deep.
A growing sense of foreboding had settled into every crack and crevice of the community. Tensions were high and neighbors began turning on one another, sometimes violently, pointing fingers accusatorily:
“YOU caused this with your rusted-out car parts all piled in heaps in your driveway!”
“No, YOU started this mess with your overflowing toilets and garbage bins!”
Town officials wrung their hands and scratched their heads; how could they even begin to tackle a problem so large and so all-encompassing when their citizens fought them—and each other—on every minute proposal and new legislation? Every day, the pothole-ridden streets were occupied with varying groups of protestors carrying signs covered in obscenity-laced slogans shouting at the top of their lungs, their passionate and vitriolic accusations indistinguishable from the passionate and vitriolic responses of the opposing group protesting across from them. Meanwhile, the town kept getting more and more polluted with hate and filth.
In the midst of this chaos and devastation lived a middle-aged woman named Joy in a two-bedroom ranch that used to be a dignified shade of dark blue until all of the paint peeled off, leaving the wood beneath exposed and vulnerable to water damage. Her home smelled of mildew, and mold climbed up her walls. Her yard, trash-laden and overgrown, looked just like her neighbors’. Each morning, Joy would shuffle into her cluttered kitchen and turn on her radio and television, letting the noise of news updates and talk shows fill the silence, as well as her own soul with outrage, dejection, and dread. And then one morning . . . she didn’t. On that morning, Joy mindlessly reached for the remote, as per usual, but then, for one split second, thought she heard a voice from deep within her own head whispering, “Not today Joy; put it down,” and she did.
The silence was unnerving at first; it made her feel lost and disconnected. Everything in her wanted to run from it and drown it out with any and all kinds of distractions, but by some small miracle, she kept herself from caving, though she had come dangerously close when the silence began to stir up within her questions and longings that had thus far lain dormant. The next day, she again put down the remote and entered the silence; though she feared what it might reveal, her curiosity propelled her forward. Those forming questions: they intrigued her. “Could there be more to life than this?”
Over the next week or so, what Joy discovered in the quiet was a kind of awakening, an awareness of something bigger than the chaos all around her—or maybe beyond it. It was hard to describe. It wasn’t an answer or explanation, per say, as much as an invitation to enter a whole new reality, to dwell in an alternative existence, one unbound by time, logic, and even death, without ever leaving her current home or circumstances. In the silence, God drew near, and God was Love, Life, and Light.
This new reality Joy called “Hope,” and in Hope, Joy’s eyes were opened to all new possibilities where before there were only doubts, fears, and resentments. Hope encouraged Joy to move the junk from off her lawn and to begin to weed her flower beds, even as the mayhem in her town raged on. The utter delight she felt from this small first attempt at cleaning up her own mess, her own little corner of the world, inspired her to keep at it. The next afternoon, she swept her porch, then washed her windows, humming as she went a brand new song that had risen up and bubbled over in her heart.
At first Hope had been dim, just a scarcely perceivable glow, but as the garbage was purged, and with each act of creation and restoration, it began to shine brighter, eventually capturing the attention of the neighbors who started crowding around Joy’s fence, some scoffing, other’s laughing, many yelling at her.
“Oh, you think you’re better than us with your newly mopped floors and freshy cut grass?!”
“Why are you even doing this?! Don’t you see? There’s no point! We’re all doomed!”
“We know you; you’ll never get that mess of yours cleaned up. You don’t have it in you. Pretty soon you’ll be right back living in filth, smelling of sewage, overwhelmed with despair like the rest of us!”
But Joy just kept her head down, and without fanfare or any hint of defensiveness, she went right on beautifying her space and nourishing her soul by meeting God—He who is Love, Life, and Light—in the quiet. For years, the soil in her garden had been left woefully untended. It took a lot of sweat and determination to make it fertile again. It was a gradual process, one that seemed insurmountable at first, but every day she chipped away at it until finally the seeds she had planted there began to grow. And what a glorious bounty! So thankful and thrilled was Joy that she began sharing her harvest with anyone she came into contact with. This made the neighbors even more irate:
“Why would you share your sweet corn with him?! Do you know his position on the rusted-out car parts?!”
“Well, if you offer her your heirloom tomatoes, you are obviously against me!”
Oh the drama! The atmosphere was thick with it! One could hardly blink in that contaminated town without offending someone. Assumptions killed all empathy, trust, and intimacy, and rumors spread like wildfire. But Joy just kept her head down, and without seeking validation or finding her worth in others’ approval, she went right on sharing the fruits of her labor with whomever was standing in front of her. And some of those who tasted of it were brought to tears, having not had access to real food or true nourishment in such a very long time.
It seemed so small what Joy was doing, so inconsequential to even Joy herself, just tending to her own little plot of land, abiding in Hope, sharing her harvest, and humming the song in her heart, but in doing so, something amazing happened, something no amount of picketing or arguing or legislating could have ever accomplished. See, not all of the neighbors were skeptical and antagonistic; there were a few who were inspired by Joy’s example to put down their own remotes and embrace the quiet. They, too, without fanfare or any hint of self-righteousness, began to dwell in Hope and focus on tidying up their own homes, their own yards, their own souls, and planting seeds; they then shared freely their abundant harvest with whomever was in front of them.
Those decrepit streets became dotted with neatly kept houses, some quirky and colorful, others classy and refined—all different and beautiful. Gardens grew, and Hope spread like a breath of fresh air, breathing new Life into many whose souls had grown cold and hard and healing hearts that had been broken, seemingly irreparably. Yes, of course, the destruction and hatred continued, but no longer were they the only choice or final answer. A new day and age began to dawn, one beginning presently with countless little enlightenments and resurrections, and stretching out into eternity.
And Joy? Well, she just kept on keeping on, planting seeds come what may, even when the economy crashed and the shootings started, even as the neighbors more rigorously trashed their parks and beaches—and one another. Even though it was awfully tempting sometimes to pick up that remote and re-engage with the noise of it all, Joy instead sought shelter in Hope, and she—and everyone else who had courageously chosen Love, Life, and Light—found peace that transcended understanding despite everything. And paradise in the ever after.