A Child-Like Dependence, A Journey Home

By Tony Pan '24


Illustration by Claire Lin '23


A boy walks with his head down, a risky move while on South Main Street. He’s always told people he likes staring at the ground beneath his feet. People fall for it. He adjusts his posture and pacing to seem natural—he just doesn’t like lifting his head.


His eyes dart between his shoelaces and the campus map he’s opened far too many times. Sporadically, he looks at Memorial Park to his left and stops, compelled to check his map again and again. The tips of his runners touch the curb on the sidewalk. He lifts his head to read the names under the traffic lights:


College Street.


Directions have never been his forte. Which turn to take? How much longer to walk down this road? Is it time to change paths? He’s always been someone who missed his turn.


He can’t be the only one struggling to find their way to Brown’s campus, right? In the back of his mind, he imagines finding another first-year student to solve this puzzle together—a dynamic duo like in the movies. But that naive thought quickly dissipates.


Keeping his head low, his eyes strain to see the top of the hill on his right. But from the bottom of the hill, the peak seems so far away. He doesn’t get a good look.


“Where am I?”


***


Lost—my mind is spinning in circles. I feel like an old vacuum: cleaning the mess from yesterday, doing the same job today, and expecting nothing exciting tomorrow. I can’t figure out how to satisfy this void.


I try everything—striving for good grades, volunteering, studying, and socializing–in an attempt to fill that void. Like when my midterm grades came out last week, I eagerly showed my parents, seeking their affirmation. Or when I volunteered as a high school tutor, hoping that being charitable and helping others would make me feel good. Or when I closed my calculus textbook at 2 AM just to squeeze in an extra bit of knowledge into my half-asleep brain, feeling pride in my hard work. Or when I spontaneously Facetimed the Penncrest Oldies group chat and bantering until I fell asleep, trying to find validation in my relationships with other people. As fun as it was, it still wasn’t enough to fill that void.


People fall for it–maybe I’m just a good actor–but a nagging feeling of emptiness tells me that these solutions are only temporary and insufficient. I'm missing the cornerstone that is keeping my build from collapsing. The flames powering me forward are dwindling, and I need to find a spark to ignite them again.


I’m so tired of pretending; I need a break.


Why do I insist on walking this road alone?


***


At the edge of the hill, the boy still stands alone, subtly embarrassed by his earlier, falsely-optimistic thought.


Sweat starts to trickle down the sides of his face. He contemplates asking for directions, lifting up his head to ask someone other than himself. Yet his socially awkward self whispers to just do it alone. So he does: he looks straight, then to the left; behind him, then to the right; straight again, then to the right one more time. He’s dizzy until he realizes he needs to stop spinning. That doesn’t help him get anywhere.


A man in a styled brown suit, subtle red tie, and neat khakis soon walks toward him from across the street. Wearing glasses and holding a hand case packed with papers, he looks like a teacher.


“Hey son, need some help?”


The boy’s mouth opens slightly, only to close in the next instant. He takes another quick look at the map and spins one more time. He feels like an orphan, struggling alone on the streets.


The man doesn’t seem bothered.


“Where are you going?”


***


Perhaps I’m going to the wrong place, turning in the wrong direction to find the wrong thing to fill me up.


I took a break and binged a K-drama, escaping to its perfect fantasy world. But when the end credits rolled and the theme song replayed for the last time, I was back to reality, sitting on my bed with the lights turned off. I felt the blood that had rushed to my face during the climax slowly fade away, and only a few kernels lingered in the bowl previously filled with popcorn. I wanted my life to be organized like that K-drama script, to be a character who always said and did the right things at the right time. But that was not realistic.


Because the truth is, on my own, I’m not perfect. Unlike those characters, I can’t make everything right by myself. But maybe I don’t need to—perhaps I’m not walking this road alone.


“Dad, I’m scared,” I remember crying in my Dad’s bedroom on the first night I was supposed to sleep by myself in my own room. Terrified of the cold and darkness, I ran straight into his arms, knowing he would protect me. Darkness wouldn’t dare to haunt me as I slept worry-lessly in his embrace.


Dad has always been there for me: “Dad, I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” “I’m bored,” “I’m sad,” “I’m cold.”


“Dad, I’m lost…take me home.”


But now that I’m older, I feel independent, almost too embarrassed to hide in his arms like a child again. So, where would I run to? It feels like I’m fighting on my own again, scared of the darkness and blind to my surroundings, desperately trying to find comfort.


Am I walking this road as an orphan?


***


The boy stands at the crossroad.


He shifts his feet and rotates his body back and forth, looking straight into the intersection. The man stands by patiently—the boy is his priority.


The boy’s unease slowly fades as he senses the man’s genuineness. Looking at the man, the boy speaks, reserved yet sincere: “Yes, I need help.”


The man points toward the top of College Hill. “Make a right here, and the place you’re looking for is at the top of the hill. I’m headed there too. Just follow me.”


The boy shyly thanks the man and waits for the pedestrian light to cross. Finally admitting he needed help and gathering the courage to ask, he feels a heavy burden lifted in his heart.


Incoming traffic slows as the lights turn. The boy follows the man as he crosses the intersection.


This time, he doesn’t lower his head.


***

I am at a crossroad. I must make the choice between a life of fighting by myself, indifferent to the cross, or a life set on the upward journey home, where my Father is waiting and calling with His overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love.


I want to go home, like a lost child who has now been found. Just like the psalmist who cried, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”, I want a saving grace so I’m not afraid nor alone ever again (Psalm 27:1, NIV).


I want to see which turn to take, like a child who lifts his head to the light that shows him the path forward. In God’s tender mercy, He gives light to me while I’m lost in darkness and guides my feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79). God is a consuming fire in even the blackest nights, and in His presence I know I can find direction in the path He leads me in. In His light and holy fire, I feel the cold receding, the ice melting, and the morning dew evaporating as a new day dawns. For as I follow Him, He satisfies my longing soul and fills the void in my life (Psalm 107:9).


I’m at the crossroad—I have the choice to be a child of God, with the privilege of calling Him Father.


I’m at the crossroad—and I choose the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).


My Father is standing right beside me, patiently waiting. And this time, I follow Him home.

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