On the first day of the semester I come across one of my students huddled in her car, shivering, crippled by panic. Later that morning, another student begins to cry as I walk with her toward the bookstore. She is overwhelmed, distraught about her inability to cope, and feels herself sliding into a familiar spiral of despair. In the early evening, as I pass through the university grounds on my way home, a third student approaches. He tells me of his depression, of his addiction to video games, and of his struggles with identity and direction. I listen, as I have done with the others. I offer help in small ways that I hope might be useful. And I recognize that I will participate in many more of these conversations in the coming months. They are a routine part of the work that I do with university students.
Stories are maps, repositories of collected wisdom, ciphers and guides for making sense of the human journey. Whether archaic, prosaic, or postmodern, stories illuminate the paths undertaken by all those who seek resolution and healing. And stories are all the same, at heart: beneath the guises of religion, behind the consistent attempts to make them fresh and new, beyond the politics and tribalisms that run through the tales of every generation. Stories tell one thing: how to discover hidden illumination.
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That horizon stretches out. You know the one. It lies on the far side of a vast, unknowable plain punctuated by our dreams and fears and fantasies of what might be. The horizon retreats as we tread upon that plain, as we encounter the figures and actions of our passage. We watch the horizon, we wonder about it, we follow our footsteps along an indistinct line that meanders in that direction. Call this line destiny, or fate, or the labyrinth, or whatever you like. It is the path that we take.
I stand in the dark, watching the lighted lamps pass. Lantern-bearers follow one another upon the spiraling path. They glide through the darkness, almost silent, their faces dimly lit by the glow of the lamps. Beyond the edge of the labyrinth, with its ever-turning gyre and folding paths, the winter night stretches toward a horizon of shadow and rain. I watch the participants pass, singly and in small groups, their faces barely visible above the illumination they carry. I imagine our collective light as a single point, visible from high in the darkling sky, a ship of amber upon a vast sea.