“I had never understood before the invisibility of a human. How what we take to be a person is in fact a spirit we can never see. Not until I sat in that room, with the dead vehicle that had carried my brother through his life, and for which I had always mistaken him.”
This heartfelt regret from the novel Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett is spoken by Alec about his brother Michael. Michael, like his father before him, suffered from debilitating chronic depression and anxiety. He committed suicide, like his father before him, but his death did not free his family members from the prisons they had been in as they tried to cope with his illness.
This book deeply impressed me in many ways; the paragraph quoted above stopped me in my tracks. I immediately felt this young man’s sadness as he looked at his dead brother and realized he had never really known him. Alec had always, mistakenly, taken Michael to be just what he revealed himself to be – an anxious, sad, person whose ability to love or to manage his life was skewed by the chemical imbalances in his brain. Alec had never really tried to see Michael’s spirit. And now it was too late.
How often do we mistake the “vehicle that carries a person”for the person himself or herself? How do these “vehicles,” whether they are ugly or beautiful, physically challenged or strong and capable, male, female or transgendered, black, white, brown or bi-racial, hide a spirit we choose not to see? How many people do we write off because we are put off by the “vehicle” that they come in?
We marvel at the stories of Jesus performing miracle after miracle. But do we even notice that the real miracle was (and is) that Jesus saw beneath the “vehicle” and loved the spirit of the person it hid? Whether that person was a child, a leper, a man possessed by demons, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Judas (who would eventually betray him) or Peter (who would deny him), a woman caught in adultery, or a thief on a cross, Jesus saw his or her spirit and felt only love and grace.
In a time when our world seems on fire with hatred for the “other,” we would do well to consider that for the Jesus many of us claim to worship and follow, there are no “others.” There are only spirits hiding within the vehicle which carries them, waiting to make themselves known to us, if only we will stop assuming or judging and pay attention.