He has always seen himself as a wraith. Or something diaphanous, like a curtain or a cobweb that brushes past people’s faces and no one ever wonders what it is. He would stand at the crossroads and cry out but no one would heed him. “Did you hear that?” “It was probably just the wind,” they would say.
I have been making it a point to arrive early at work. So far so good, I’d say. Of course, arriving early at work means having to wake up early. My body clock has adjusted to this and I can wake up early with ease. So it seems I have paid off any sleep debt I have accumulated in the past.
Upon waking up, I would discover that the house is still dark. Usually, I would find it, in the same state as it was the previous night. A chair aligned at a certain angle would still be aligned at that same angle. A faucet dripping at a certain tempo would continue to drip at that certain tempo. And the atmosphere wanting of words would remain devoid of them.
I would take a shower, change, select a playlist, put on my earphones, walk from the house to the main road and from there take a jeepney. A lady sitting beside me might complain because I stepped on her foot. I would tell her I didn’t mean to and apologize. My mobile phone might ring but I would ignore it. I know the caller only bothered to call because I have something of interest to them. Occasionally, my earphones would fall off and I would plug them back. Occasionally, I would fix my hair and the wind would ruffle it again.
Upon arriving at the office, I would discover that some things are in the same state as they were the previous day. The chair I tucked under the desk would remain tucked. The coffee mug I left unwashed would remain unwashed. And the bugs I left unresolved would remain wanting of a fix.
I would wash my mug, make myself some coffee and begin my inquiry into the nature and causes of these bugs.
I had a dream about an old friend. It has been years since I last kept in touch with him. It is not that he has gone somewhere distant but our lives have moved on to different directions. And we were content with that.
In my dream, he told me he was leaving for Haiti. He had studied French and his brother arranged for him to work there and assist with the relief operations. As we said our farewells, I saw images of bodies buried under rubble, the bronze faces painted white with dust and debris.
And then I saw a group of young Haitian girls in their school uniforms. Some of them giggled as they chanted a song while walking through quiet and tortuous streets. Their song meandered in my mind long after they passed. Lingering, even as I awoke to a melancholic early-morning rain.
“Well, when one has no one, nowhere else one can go! For every man must have somewhere to go. Since there are times when one absolutely must go somewhere!” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
On such a predicament as described by Marmeladov, a character from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, it is one’s tendency to reassess one’s options. Surely, one thinks, there must be somewhere one can go. But what if each option leads to a dead end? Others will probably continue to plan, hoping against hope that they would discover an exit. Others will probably surrender. Marmeladov did and he doused his helplessness in wine.
The psalmist behind Psalm 121 probably experienced the same anguish that Marmeladov felt. As customary among Jewish men, he was on a pilgrimage to the temple. We are not aware of his circumstance but it could be that he had nowhere else to go. He lifted his eyes to the hills of Jerusalem and perhaps he wondered if the city was that “somewhere” that will accept him and offer him aid. But the psalmist understood that help does not come from the hills but from God, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Trusting in God requires a certain surrender, an acceptance that one has nowhere else to go but to Him. Oftentimes, however, we thrash and flail as one drowning, a mad attempt to grab hold of something that might help us keep afloat. And even when we do resolve to trust, we’d imagine how God’s help would come through this or that, forgetting that His ways are higher than ours.
I think having nowhere else to go but to God is beautiful. Because it is in our inadequacy that His strength shines. Paul, after God spoke to him of how His power is made perfect in our weakness, concluded, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”