My wife and I toured Israel for ten days with a group of 450 people, traveling in nine buses. We were assigned the red bus, which was actually taupe, and the adhesive colored dots placed on our nametags to differentiate us from the other bus passengers were orange. Strange, I know. Nevertheless, the 53 people who traveled in the red bus came from all walks of life: farmers, teachers, computer programmers, managers, housewives, retirees, children, and a few clergy.
In the course of ten days the environment of the red bus changed after riding together, walking the countryside, sharing meals, and enduring the inconveniencies of travel, we were changed. On our last night, as we traveled to the Ben Guiron Airport in Tel Aviv to return home, mailing addresses were exchanged, tears were shed, and embraces were felt.
At the beginning of our tour we were 53 individuals who just happened to be on the red bus. By the end of the ten days we were a family. The masks came off, conversations got deep, hearts got vulnerable, lives were shared, accountability was invited, and tenderness flowed. We, dare I say, loved one another.
Love is what all of us want. And need. Without it we limp along in the shadows of life.
I remember watching the film, Cipher in the Snow, a haunting true story about a young boy who asks to get off the bus before his stop. When he steps off the bus, he falls into the snow dead. His school principle enlists a teacher to investigate the boy’s death. The teacher looks back on the boy’s life to discover that the boy did not receive affection at home, the other kids showed little or no interest in him, and many of his teachers did not affirm the boy. The investigating teacher’s conclusion for the boy’s death is that he simply was not loved. . He felt like a cipher, a zero, because no one cared. He died because of a lack of love.
The stark reality is people are all around us just like this boy. They, in the words of the poet, live lives of quiet desperation. They are desperate for human touch and compassion. They long to be noticed, to be treated with dignity and honor, to be loved.
If I could write the requirements for occupying space and sucking up the oxygen on this planet one would be to love. That’s it, just love people.
Many people will balk at my suggestion. They’ve tried love. They’ve exposed their heart, hurt deeply. But, we don’t have the luxury of living a quarantined life. We can’t hole up in a cloistered place.
We have to take the gamble, the risk of loving. C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, said it eloquently, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
I know that people around us are wanting and needing for someone to love them. Will we take the risk and put an arm around their shoulder? Will we take the hand of someone who hurts? Will we love the unlovely?
Remember the classic children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit? The stuffed rabbit, clean and new, wants to become “real.” The rabbit meets an old, worn-out, but very much loved, stuffed horse. The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others—his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. . . . Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.”
There is risk in love; but, it is the only way to become real. In loving those people around we become a family on this planet, like the people on the red bus.