This year I’ve been journeying with some of our Catholic Volunteers here in Buffalo. Their experience of living in community is always a challenge for each one of them. I look back to my senior year in college and found that living with 5 other guys was actually difficult. We sometimes got on each other’s last nerve. One of the things about living in community is that at times you may think you’ve gotten to know someone well and then they surprise you and do something you didn’t expect, or they hurt your feelings.
Secondly, sometimes someone’s annoying quirks signal something deeper. And sometime what we perceive to be meanness, or aloofness or even just weirdness is actually not so far removed from an understandable experience. Once we discover what someone fears or needs, we often are able to let our perceptions grow into an actual opportunity. Sometimes our own pride gets in the way of forming deeper relationship because we are too afraid to let ourselves be vulnerable for whatever reasons we may have for protecting ourselves.
As I was driving to the gym this morning, my old radio colleague Steve Inskeep introduced National Public Radio’s Story Corps Feature–which gives real people the opportunity to tell a meaningful story. Today’s came from a writer who is interviewed by his son. The writer was always trying to impress his father with his writing but …
“He never said anything good about my writing,” Walter says. “And that really, that really hurt, that really bothered me a lot.”
Trying to make an impression on his father, Herbert Dean, Walter started to use some of the stories he’d heard around the house in his writing.
“I even would take his ghost stories and publish them,” Walter says. “And I would show them to him, and he would never comment on them. So when I did that, then I said, he hates me. You know, he hates me.”
“Did you ever ask him about it?” Christopher asks.
“No, no. When he was dying, I brought him a book that I’d just finished. And uh, he picked it up and he looked at it, and then he just laid it down.
“And then after he died, I went to his house and went through his papers. And I would see X’s where his signature should be. The man couldn’t read. I mean, that was why he never said anything about my writing. It just tore me up, I mean, I could have read him a story at the hospital.”
Could you imagine the pain and embarrassment he must have felt? His own son just sought his approval but he was too proud to admit that he couldn’t read his son’s books. His stories were amazingly vivid and publishable and his son took pains to make sure they’d be honored. But Dad couldn’t write them for himself.
So he went on protecting himself and the son assumed it was because he was hated. Dad may have resented his son’s ability to read when he in fact, could not–but the chasm that divided them was one small admission of weakness, one that could have been overcome.
What is it that you can’t admit that keeps you from others. Do you avoid a conversation with a loved one because it’s going to bring up things that could start an argument? Perhaps there’s a weakness that you can’t admit so you avoid being in those situations? Or might you have a skeleton in the closet that is trying to break out and force you to deal with the fallout?
Whatever the matter is, it may not be worth secluding it further. I’m sure both the man and the son in the story have deep regrets.
As we posted earlier, dying people don’t look back on their lives with regrets of things they’ve done. No, they regret the things they didn’t do. So today, let us pray that we can be brave enough to face our own vulnerabilities and admit that they keep us hostage from real freedom–the freedom of being who we are–in all our human weakness. The more we are able to share that–the freer we can become and the closer we can become with others, who may just share our own fears as well.
Back to our volunteers, who have impressed me with just how vulnerable many of them have been for one another and with me as well. Pray for them as they begin their last month or so of service that they can end their time here well and move on to all that awaits them in their growing lives.