I think this is a scene from 2010. It’s winter, and we’re all standing together on a balcony. Or maybe we’re lined up side by side along a wheelchair access ramp. There’s snow lightly falling silently in the darkness just beyond the awning. Dim orange light spills down from a lamp overhead. I don’t remember how many of us were huddled together, but there are at least five ICFers there. If this is back in 2010, then maybe it’s at Toah Nipi.
We’d have all just arrived at the retreat site on a cold Friday night in February. Every one of us wearing thick winter coats. Grey and black, peacoats and snow boots. Jeans that were too thin for the weather, already wet at the ankles with snow. Cream-colored wool scarves and white knitted beanies to keep our ears warm.
But really, it’s the glowing bond of fellowship and the emanating warmth of our laughter that keeps the cold at bay.
I wonder what we were laughing about.
The sun is setting. She’s standing in a grassy field, with the golden sunlight streaming through the trees nearby. The late-afternoon sky glows warmly, but she glows brighter still. Her smile lights up the field. If this is real, then almost an entire year has passed. But it’s still June, isn’t it? We’ve still got two months to go. Then this must be a dream.
As I walk closer, I notice that she’s wearing a simple but elegant yellow blouse. It looks new. Well, is it really new, or have I simply never seen it before? I can’t say for certain. A lot can happen in ten months. Twelve months. A year. Wow, it’s been a year. One whole year. Neither of us can believe it. We laugh and reminisce. What were we thinking? Young and foolhardy. Making promises neither of us could keep.
We’ve each found someone else. We’re both happy, at least in this moment. The song “One Day” by Jennifer Chung flashes through my mind. Is this what it’s like to write a song with someone in mind? Is this what it’s like to hear a song, and realize it was sung for you? It must be sad.
The sun hasn’t moved in the sky.
The taxi ride took fifteen minutes. The other passenger was let off on the beach, down by the coconut sellers and open-air vegetable stands. Campaign billboards and Timorese flags dot the rooftops and the sides of the road. We pull off the main road, off onto a side street, and I ring my friend. I’m a bit early; I left during the middle of morning rounds, after all. He’s surprised to hear my voice, but cheery nonetheless. He instructs me to continue a hundred meters up the street, to a big red gate. After the curvy bit of road. I see his head poking out. Aha! I hope I’m not under-dressed.
The compound is clearly still under construction. I meet other members of the church, from D.C.–Boston–Korea. Oh, you know such-and-such? I know so-and-so too, of course! He’s coming to Timor too? In August? I hope I can see him before he leaves. Yes, he overlapped a year at Brandeis with me. I’m not sure where he is right now, maybe medical school?
We enter into the living room. There are two dozen cushions lined up in a semi-circle. A projector too. I see Bibles, guitars, a veiled upright piano. Are we still in Timor? This feels like I’m back at a church in Boston. I spot another friend from the clinic, seated on a cushion in the front row. We smile at one another, and chat about our patients. Soon, more brothers and sisters trickle in. Some have studied at Bentley; others have worked at B.C. All of them have lived in Boston. They talk about a new H-Mart location opening in Central Square. We all laugh about H-Mart’s legendary presence in Burlington.
I don’t have to try and smile nervously anymore; I’m beaming from ear to ear. Who knew this kind of community existed here?
Worship is led by a single acoustic guitar. There are no amps, no mics, no drums. We crescendo to the chorus of Reign In Us, and I feel the Holy Spirit course through my hands. It feels like so long since I listened to worship music. But it’s only been a couple of weeks, hasn’t it? Two long, hard weeks.
The sermon comes from Matthew. The Parable of the Talents. The last time I studied this passage, it was in the context of men on Wall Street using it as justification for their reckless investments. The Pastor reads from the NIV, and I follow along with my ESV Bible app. I spot a couple of iPads being used nearby. Even in a country like this, we cling stubbornly to our technology. But sitting in this room, surrounded by this people, soaking up this sermon, I can’t complain.
They invite me to lunch. There are SO many kids. Each one cuter than the next. They introduce themselves with Biblical names like Isaiah, Abraham, and Samuel. One of the kids tells me he’s the son of someone I know. I look up. Whoa. My friend–the man who greeted me at the gate–he has a kid? The sassiest, bounciest, most talkative kid out of all of them? Go figure. I tell him to study hard, to become a wise doctor like his father. He giggles back at me.
The taxi ride back flashes by in an instant. The clinic is locked. The other volunteers have gone home, or have gone to the beach for the afternoon. I trundle home by myself, ambling my way beneath the hot afternoon sun.
I wonder if this, too, is a dream.