I’ll never forget the day I discovered that other people are real. It was 1981, the year I became a Christian, but the event I’m about to describe happened, interestingly, a few months before my conversion.
It was a Saturday morning in spring and I had nothing to do. Not the tiniest of commitments. Awake early, I donned faded jeans, runners, and a plain white T-shirt: the uniform of freedom. Then I took a cup of coffee out to the front steps to sit and watch the day put on its clothes of light.
Up and down the street, not a soul was stirring. No bodies, either, except for a few squirrels whose plumey tails flitted like currents of electricity through the trees. The just-risen sun shone pinkish among the fresh lime-green foliage. Birds twittered. No doubt about it: this morning the whole world was happy.
And then I saw the boy. I was looking at a spot about halfway up the block, when all at once he was there. About twelve years old, he was dressed exactly like myself—jeans, sneakers, white T-shirt—and he was coming along the sidewalk in my direction, pulling a red wooden wagon.
In that moment, it seemed everything else stopped. The birds stopped chirping, the squirrels froze, the grass stopped growing. Even the sun stopped rising, and everything stopped getting older and suddenly became new. The parallel lines of now and eternity converged.
The boy had a shock of blond hair and he was chewing on a matchstick. A wooden match! How that one homely detail thrilled me! The boy passed right in front of my house, so close I might have counted the freckles on his nose. I watched him with utter absorption. How many hundreds of thousands of human beings had I laid eyes on in my life? Yet something about this one made me think I saw the human form for the very first time. So compelling was his existence that I momentarily forgot my own.
He walked as if on a cloud, his every movement fascinating and beautiful. He could have stayed in front of me forever and I wouldn’t have grown tired. Sailing dreamily across the window of the morning, he was as solid a chunk of pure mystery as ever appeared on earth. I couldn’t have been more awed if he had sprouted silver wings and flown away. Yet he did something even more amazing: he walked. I wondered: What makes him go? He must have a little motor inside. The only sound was the wagon wheels clattering over the sidewalk, yet even this was as lovely as the tinkling of myriad tiny bells.
The way I felt as this boy passed before me in all his extraordinary ordinariness was like nothing I had ever experienced. Unbeknownst to me, it was my first glimpse of the imago Dei—the fact that every human being is made in the image of God, and so reflects the glory of the Creator. That boy dropped into my life quite out of the blue, like a meteorite sizzling into a quiet pool. And then he was gone.
I could write forever (and I am) about the effects of this vision. For that was the day I learned that to be a visionary means nothing more than to open one’s eyes. I honestly wondered where I had been all my life. And thereafter everything I encountered would be lit by the ineffable aura of a young boy with yellow hair pulling a red wagon through the pale gauzy dream-streets of reality.
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