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JOY SYLVESTER-JOHNSON: A Reunion of Prodigal and Prodigies

Joy Sylvester Johnson

I have two large boxes full of family photos in my closet.  Every time I start to organize them I am ambushed by the photos themselves.

I never fail to laugh at the various hairstyles, hemlines and the goofy “say cheese” smiles.  Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to so and so who smiles back at me from a group picture taken at a birthday party or a backyard BBQ or some wedding or graduation.  

In one photo I see a little boy who is now an old man.  In another, a vibrant young woman who is now just a sweet memory.  Like a fortune teller in a carnival tent, I hold in my hand a reminder of who we were and a foreshadowing of who we were becoming.

A trunk full of snapshots is a way of prodding our sieve like memories.

Sunday School teachers used the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 to warn us about the danger of youthful arrogance wasting opportunity.  At times, those of us who were “little pharisees in the making” enjoyed the fact that those absent from class that day would one day find themselves “eating slop with the hogs”.

Most of us do not start out life hoping to become prodigals.  Rather, we have dreams of being prodigies–being the best (exceptional) at something.  Nobel Prize Winner, Pulitizer recipient, famous concert pianist, notable basketball player, rap artist, spelling bee winner–even eating the most hotdogs in record time—anything to say that we were once somebody special.

If the truth be told, and why should it not, most of us have prodigal and prodigy moments in our lives.  We don’t get to stay there very long though, perhaps just long enough to snap a picture of us in our glory as we bathe in praise or accept the trophy.  Or perhaps just long enough to blush with shame as our horrible secret becomes known.  These prodigal and prodigy moments are not the sum total of our lives—they are snapshots that capture just one aspect or event, that when combined with all the other “life shots” make us who we are.

Next week I will attend the 50th reunion of my high school class—certainly a group of prodigal/prodigies. All of us who have survived until this event have more time behind us than ahead of us. If we have learned anything in the almost seven decades we have lived our lives, I hope it is that one moment does not define us, but rather the decisions, the events, the relationships, the accomplishments and the failures – moment built on moment after moment after moment that has brought us to this reunion. 

It’s good to occasionally look back, but we must not stare. The question we each have to answer today (and every day)  is—how shall we live this moment?

Joy Sylvester-Johnson

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