In early autumn, I board a plane with my daughter to tour my alma mater.
We walk beneath the famous arch, down the path to the heart of campus. Flooded with memories, I try to focus on her and fail. Because it is here we camped out to claim rights to paint the rock. Here I manned a table to spread the gospel. Here I filled the lawn with tiny white crosses. Nothing and everything has changed. I am no longer that girl.
When I was her age, I knew that I knew what I knew.
I was full of certainty and rebellion, but my angst was against secular humanists and liberals. Against the unsaved and lost. Against those who would devalue human life.
In high school, I protested in front of the board of education. In college, I joined nuns on an overnight bus to march in D.C. as president of the pro-life club. I shared Jesus, handing out tracts on beaches and in inner cities. I became a missionary in the Middle East.
I knew that I knew what I knew.
Certainty provided stability. I was safe and protected, cozy in my cocoon of truth. And though I lived in a vibrant city of colors, scents, and sounds, I reveled in predictable shades of black and white. Mine was a vintage stack of bricks. Brick upon peeling brick, I had constructed a wall of facts worth defending.
Tucked behind that wall, it was hard to hear those on the other side. I really had very little understanding of what they believed, and why they believed it. And they were far too foreign for me to give credence to their joy or the surety in their own brick wall, even as mine started to crumble:
Bombings. Stabbings. Murder. Team Conflict. Sick children. And a fruitless ministry.
From within my cocoon, a voice. And then a hand. First, an invitation to stop defending the wall and consider that perhaps I did not know, after all. If he led, would I step out from behind the bricks? Because he was an insider, I listened. I followed. Then, a sweet Muslim girl pushed a brick through and offered friendship. Oh, how I wanted to take her hand.
When you know that you know what you know, and then you stop, what do you have left?
A pile of bricks? Not quite. Mine was not complete deconstruction. Exhaustion? Yes, something like this.
I had grown so weary defending a wall that, in the end, failed me.
And so, I sat down.
It’s sort of exhilarating when you sit down on the other side of a wall you’ve erected. Your perspective softens, shifts. Over time, the size of that stack of bricks looks ridiculous. And over time, it seems less and less important. Life is too colorful this side of monochrome.
But that was years ago, when I traded certainty and stability for questions and nuance. Those of you already here can attest, this side of the wall can feel desolate and dreary. It is scary. And there are days it requires far more faith than I think I have.
Too many things over here make no sense. Too much pain I can’t explain, answers that feel anemic. Most days I just don’t know.
I just don’t know.
Except that voice. That invitation to live. To really live.
More days than not, it is but a whisper. Plenty of days, it is but a memory.
But on days when I hear clearly, I listen. I follow.
Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.