At 9:00 in the evening in New Hampshire, even in August, it’s not normal to be over 90º. When you add an oppressive amount of humidity it’s downright miserable. So it seemed a might unusual to pass a man walking down the street dragging a full size crucifixion cross.

Now it’s partially because it’s unusual to see anyone dragging any large religious items of any sort down any street in New Hampshire. Mostlyit’s because it’s the northeast and people are a little less fundamentalist about their religion than other parts of the country. Not their politics mind you, but their religion at least. Add to this the fact that its sweltering and it’s nightime, and the whole thing is downright unique for this area.

Oh, and the cross was on wheels, so this guy was in it for the long haul.

My first reaction was to want to double-back to take a picture. But thankfully this thought was immediately followed by the more rational (and frankly more humane) thought, “This man is going through a massive event in his life right now and I got to bear witness to it.”

If anyone reading this has ever been at a crossroads in their life where they were willing to take extreme actions to test their faith, search their soul, or take the first step in a life-changing quest, then you will understand what he was trying to do. Not everyone can relate to the method, or even the belief structure, but most people can understand the need to walk through some sort of amends or penance as a way to change their direction in life. From the alcoholic who quits drinking and begins to repair the damage of their past, to the person who has been given some terminal news by their doctor and wants to leave this plane of existance with a clean slate, or even the simple practice of making resolutions to ring in the new year… the need for a do-over is a part of most cultures and people.

But most acts of atonement are small or private. Very few of us have the audacity to do so in such a public manner, or in such a striking fashion. For lack of a better description, this man was putting it all out there. As he trudged down the sidewalk his face was resolute, he stared directly in front of himself, both seeing and not. I am sure he was very much inside of his own head, and outside of himself at the same time. Despite the wheels that I am sure his savior was not privileged to, his effort was very apparent in his gait, and the heat and humidity left him soaked with sweat and bent with determination. As a person who has retreated and reflected many times in order to understand my place in the world, I can only hope he gets the clarity and vision he seeks, or the relief that he hopes for himself and others.

It’s easy to make fun of these things until we’re in the position where the world’s answers don’t fit our questions. It’s easy to point and laugh at someone who is willing to step outside of what’s comfortable in their own attempt to elevate this world even a little bit by changing themselves. Even if we don’t agree with their actions, or even their goal, we should respect it if it doesn’t harm others. To truly be able to hold your beliefs in an open hand is very difficult. To allow others to question who and what you are without defending it is even more difficult. But for those who can, they will learn infinitely more than those of us who quietly keep everything we cherish close and safe, neither inviting critique nor welcoming skepticism, for fear that it may wound our precious ego: That invisible sense of self that is the part of us that gets us hurt, but without which we can truly be free. And only by systematically exploring, exposing and dismantling our ego can we ever truly find that freedom that actually exists for all of us, nomatter what world we think we’re living in.