I wake in the utter stillness of early morning. I try to fall back asleep, but it’s pointless; I need to use the bathroom. I stumble out of bed bleary-eyed. In this moment I can’t help but think of my friend Cassandra.*
Cassandra loves to stay up late. At the L’Arche home where I work as a direct-care assistant, Cassandra is the one person who never wants to go to bed. L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. Cassandra thinks of nighttime as another party that she can be the life of, the waking person amidst the sleepers.
Here’s how it goes: I tuck her in, knowing that she won’t stay in bed for long. Once evening routine is finally finished, I trudge up to my room only to encounter her sitting silent on the dark stairs. For a split second, I believe I’ve seen a ghost. Cassandra is motionless, just waiting to scare someone out of their skin. With me, she invariably succeeds.
I grab her hands and gasp, “You scared me half to death!” She laughs, riotously, ever so pleased. Her mocha-colored skin is smooth and warm. She’s draped in fire-engine red, one of her two bathrobes. Her sash is missing, her curly hair is pillow-tousled, and her grin stretches a mile wide.
It’s a game to her, but it’s also something more. One night, I overhear Cassandra say that she stays up late to “check on things” specifically, “on people.” I’ve never realized it until now, but she is our sentry. Cassandra enjoys haunting the house, but she also has a clear purpose. She is keeping watch.
Upon hearing this, I recall Psalm 121 with tears pricking my eyes.
“[She] who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, [she] who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep …. The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” –Ps 121:4, 8, NIV
Growing up, the God of my imaginings was terribly serious, exclusively male, always ready to hand down judgment. But Cassandra helps me shift that mental picture. Thanks to her, I recognize the Divine in an African-American woman wandering the house at night. Where I once feared judgment, I now feel welcome, kindness, merriment. I see God as a friend in a well-worn bathrobe, God as the One who loves to hold my hands.
The words of Psalm 121 become more poignant when I remember that Cassandra sometimes sees frightening things in her mind’s eye. When she walks through the dark hallways, I wonder what dangers flash before her? Moreover, I wonder what compels her to move through the house in the face of these things?
Love is the only answer that makes sense.
Although the L’Arche house feels like home, I long for my faraway family and friends. When I return to my childhood home, I long to be with my L’Arche family. No matter where I go, there’s always someone I miss, there’s always a longing. The people I love are scattered far and wide, and I cannot gather them together.
If I feel this way, how must Cassandra feel? Every time Cassandra and her housemates welcome a new group of assistants to L’Arche, they do so knowing: this is only for a time. Assistants typically stay one to two years, so greetings and farewells are woven into the fabric of L’Arche life.
My friend Cassandra gives her heart, again and again, to people who are always going, going, gone. In that choice, I see God. I see God as the One who loves prodigals and runaways, the One who leaps up to meet loved ones when they’re still a long way off.
With this in mind, I whisper the words of Marisa de los Santos in Belong to Me, “… I would like to have [my family and friends] under one roof, all of us, everybody here, which makes no sense, of course … But imagine the nights, those separate breathings, everyone within my reach and safe, everyone together.”
It’s my most audacious hope, this giant reunion. I know that Cassandra would agree when I say: it sounds like heaven to me.
* her name has been changed
Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist turned writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. Download her free ebooks to learn more about creating connections, nurturing relationships, and finding your way home.
Image credit: Alba García Aguado
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