Friday, July 07, 2006

Steve told me this one day while I was here: no matter what we do during the day, what happens, what are our worries, stresses, or concerns, we can’t help but be on the positive side of life. I am thankful for the opportunity to be on the positive side of life for a year. It has been transformative (as promised!) above and beyond all expectations. John Sutton asked me yesterday, when I told him that August 5 will come too soon, what was the best thing about it. I responded that I’ve learned to be open. In one sense it’s a gained ability to interact, communicate, and find friendships with people that are dirty, smelly, crazy, and generally socially unacceptable. In this way I’ve blossomed my natural pity—my penchant for including the classroom outcaste, for refusing to cut the freshman tennis player with a heart condition, etc. In short, I’m a far cry from Day One when Steve told me after realizing I was having trouble interacting, “a good way to break the ice with them is to say hello.” But in a deeper sense I’ve come to understand how abusive some of our guys are to themselves and how hard we can all be on ourselves. Also called by Steve, "cranial rectal insertion." At this point, if I had to answer succinctly the question, “why are people homeless,” I would respond: self-loathing.

Seeing sadness here has been unavoidable—it is so stark, obvious, physical, and different from my personal history. We witness rock bottom experiences. There are many kinds of people that find their way to the Champion. Some of the more touching, for me, have been the unexpected ones: the professional on the brink of emotional and relational breakdown who gives us service, the young volunteer grappling with addiction, the white collar criminal, etc. It makes JR’s monologue from Sleeping: It’s a Wakeup Call just a twinge weightier: “all people, from all lifestyles, are welcome.” And each rock bottom moment is special, sacred, and precious because we get to pay witness, to participate in, and every once in a while to actually be a catalyst for…hope.

But it is hard to pay witness to constant rock bottom. Sadder still, than seeing all the misery, is thinking about all of the people who are on their way down, the ones who will need our center in the future, “the addict” as we say before the customary moment of silence during Twelve Step meetings, “who still suffers.” I started wondering about all the others. I began seeing the sadness in my own life, in the lives of some of my closest friends, and within the privileged community from which I came. I found out, for example, after years of friendship, about a close friend’s traumatic childhood. I’ve come to realize that crack cocaine may be a drug of choice particular to the community we serve, but addiction is universal. In other words the center with its vividness forced me to confront suffering which, upon closer inspection, I discovered in areas previously hidden by materialism and distraction. In this place I have faced a tough choice: to either embrace trauma or else completely break down myself. I think this is why people are scared of the Champion. It forces us to make that choice.

I think self-loathing manifests the sadness which is medicated through our addictions, whether to crack, alcohol, sex, violence, gang banging, money, or power. So when I say I am thankful for the opportunity to be on the positive side of life, I mean I’m grateful to have learned self-compassion. Self-compassion floods in immediately after embracing trauma. Buddhists find wellsprings of compassion by visualizing suffering. I have been forced to see suffering and I have chosen to embrace it...sometimes, kind of...at least, as best I can.

It is in this way that I have received far more than I gave this year. It is also in this way that August 5, 2006 very much represents a beginning, rather than an end for I have learned a great lesson—it seems to me one of the greatest—for it can’t help but be shared.

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