When I was in high school I read a book that overall is not a book of classic greatness or literary genius. Although I still spy it on occasion in certain bookstores along with more popular novels by the author, it doesn’t seem to have garnered much favor with readers nor is it one that I have ever recommended to others.
And I’m not recommending it now. But there was one brief passage in this book that completely captured me and became a descriptive image of what I feel often in my life. After one reading of this particular scene, it was forever imprinted in my mind and became so real to me that at certain times I have trouble distinguishing it from my very personal and very real experiences.
A young, tormented man has been driven by life to the balcony of his apartment overlooking the packed and bustling city streets below. Cars dart in and out of traffic, pedestrians quicken their steps to the safety of the sidewalks and scurry to their next destiny. All the sounds that you imagine are there – the honking car horns, the spray of water from a puddle as the tax turns the corner, a car door as a man in a business suit exits the cab and heads into the office complex. There is a constant murmer as people go about their day – walking past each other without a single acknowledgement and with minds in a million different places.
As the man watches the scene below him, he hears a shrill cry that rises about the noise. He scans the crowds looking for the source of the cry as it’s utter pain intensifies and pierces his heart. Not only can he not find the person who is suffering so deeply, it appears everyone else is completely ignoring the scream. Why are they not moving? Surely they can hear this deafening cry. But no one changes their course.
Then more screams. More cries of utter pain and hurt rise up to his ears as he gribs the railing of the balcony. He raises his hands to cover his ears and cries out, “Oh, God, please make it stop.”
At the moment he is made aware. Understanding is given to him and he is burdened with the realization that the screams are resonating from the very hearts and souls of the people walking below him. On the outside, they give no evidence of their pain. Yet the man is haunted with sounds of the true pain that lies beneath the facades. And he is broken. For them. For himself. For all the pain that is and that aches in silence.
There are times in my life that I hear clearly from my balcony. There are times when I’m walking the streets oblivious to everyone but myself. My calling is about blending the two. It is about coming down from the balcony and walking the streets with compassion for others and with vulnerability to be cared for myself. True community requires both.
As much as my heart breaks from the cries of those who hurt, I find the balcony easier than the walking. With humility, I know God has molded my soul in such a way that it hears what others cannot. I can sense pain in others that goes unnoticed by many and most of my work has been dedicated to responding to those hurts. Yet to not be open about my own pains means I ask of others what I will not do myself.
I’m not afraid of heights. Its the descent that scares me.