Henri Nouwen

The Journey, First Overlook: Notice

When I finished reading The Power of the Powerless I had a strange vision. I saw our crazy world, full of wars and conflicts, full of competition and ambition, full of heroes and stars, full of success stories, horror stories, love stories, and death stories, full of newspapers, television, radios and computer screens, and millions of people believing that something was happening that they couldn’t miss without losing out on life. And then I saw a hand moving this heavy curtain of spectacles away and pointing to a handicapped child, a poor beggar, a chronically ill woman, an illiterate monk, a dying old man, a hungry child. I had not noticed them before… (POTP, Introduction, p. xvii, xviii)

Let me tell you when the curtain was pulled back for me.

Ryan, you have to come down here!” Jeni forced out her words through tears. “They said Caedmon has Cerebral Palsy, I don’t know what it means, but I think it’s bad.” She was in a doctor’s office in Franklin, NC while I was in my office, 4000 feet above her, in Highlands, NC. I remember telling the staff that something was wrong with Caedmon and running out the door; I wouldn’t have been able to answer their questions anyway. Winding my way down the Gorge Road (Hwy 64), my mind was in a sudden, confusing fog. I had no idea what Cerebral Palsy was. I didn’t know if the doctor was telling us that Caedmon was about to die. Lost in the spectacle of the moment, I didn’t notice the majestic Cullasaja river barreling over the boulders to my left.

The curtain was pulled back for me the moment my sobbing bride said, “Cerebral Palsy.” I didn’t know what I was looking at but it was, no doubt, something I hadn’t noticed before. Over the next few months, I read a lot about CP. We asked hundreds of questions. The same way that our friends, visiting us in the mountains, would ask us about the hiking trails, waterfalls, candy shops, and mountain top views that surrounded us everyday; we were desperate to understand something that was foreign to us.

The effects of CP weren’t obvious in Caedmon’s early months; I doubted there would be any effect at all. But, as he grew so did the manifestation of CP. As I looked on the websites and struggled to accept that the people in the pictures looked like my son would look; I was becoming more aware of how long I’d been in front of the curtain.

Vivid images of kids in my high school with disabilities invaded my mind, one boy in particular. He wore a helmet and used a wheelchair. Always sitting at the head of the lunchroom table, because his chair didn’t fit on the sides, someone fed him his lunch. The only reason I know he existed was because I was serving my “In-School Suspension” sentence from a fight I had been in. Part of our punishment was that we couldn’t eat with our peers. Instead, we ate before them, we ate with the special education class. (We had a huge lunchroom, so I don’t want you to think my school “punished” us by forcing us to eat with them. I’m simply pointing out that they were the only other kids in the room.)

I.S.S. gave me a brief season living behind the curtain even though I was clueless. For a moment I knew what it was to eat lunch in silence, alone, unnoticed by the general population. However, involved in the spectacle of my suspension, my social suffering, and the school work waiting for me; I managed to install a small temporary curtain to keep those kids hidden. I didn’t want to notice.

As Oliver and Adam lead us on this journey, they will force you to notice. Nouwen (he wrote the introduction) said there were, “…millions of people believing that something was happening that they couldn’t miss without losing out on life.” We live in a culture of people, small businesses, and corporations killing each other so that we will notice them. Spending millions of dollars, wearing fewer clothes, using bigger and brighter lights. Getting noticed is the secret to success.

Always look your best.
Put your best foot forward.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Stay in front of the curtain.

I’ve come to agree with Nouwen; millions are missing out on something that is causing them to lose out on life. But it’s not the stuff bathed in spotlight. No, the good stuff is behind the curtain. People that melt your heart and buttress your fortitude live there. Those who let you love them without expectation and can love you without pretension abide behind the veil.

Have you noticed?

Share a time when you noticed. Were you startled, saddened, angered, sympathetic? Perhaps you can remember folks you didn’t notice at the time, please share that too. Let them be noticed now. We are all together, looking at the view, point out what you noticed.