Pictures of my parents and grandparents look down on me from the top shelf of my computer desk. My father looks very much as I remember him: gentle, benevolent, and wise, with just a hint of a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. My German grandparents are upright, stoic, no-nonsense folks; I suspect that the ordeal of being photographed frightened and oppressed them. My mother looks a lot like me, with her head tilted slightly to the side; my friends tell me it is my own look when I am paying attention. My grandmother, whom I knew only as an old woman, is beautiful and my Scottish grandfather, whom I knew only as a very old bald man, is a gorgeous blond. As they look back at me wordlessly, they remind me where I have come from, they remind me that I am part of the long family walk that my children and grandchildren will continue when I have gone far enough. They remind me to keep looking back as I continue to look forward, a feat that my ophthalmologist would judge impossible if I tried to accomplish it literally.
Surely there is a lesson here. There are different ways of looking back. Like the child at the Seder, we can yearn to know who we are and where are our roots. When we look back on our own little lives, if we can manage such retrospection honestly, we can rejoice in what we have been given. We can trace the path winding away behind us and chart the bumps in the road, the times when darkness fell before we had reached the day’s stopping place, the times when we ploughed through snowdrifts, the times when we fell either painfully or with a total loss of dignity on the ice. We can see all the places where we took a wrong turn, all the places where we received generous and unexpected hospitality. We can see how the walk strengthened us even if, when we reached the end, we were worn out and quite ready to cross the second great threshold. We can see ourselves clearly, maybe for the first time.
Excerpt from Walking Home: From Eden to Emmaus. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2011.