“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
Perhaps my two greatest teachers have been pain and community. I first learned of pain from my father who humbly and quietly endured 40 years of kidney stones and chronic pain before cancer claimed his weary body. It strengthened his soul and was an invaluable teacher to me. C.S. Lewis claimed that, “pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Khalil Gibran believed that much of our pain was self-chosen and unlocked our understanding by being the “bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.” He went on to say that, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” I've known great pain, chosen and otherwise, emotional and physical. I both curse and honor this demanding teacher. (Intentional) community has been the framework through which these battles have worked themselves out in messy, beautiful and frustrating ways.
I've had the comical fortune of stumbling into some remarkable community situations. I've mostly learned from people (scarily) different from me while maintaining close fellowship with a variety of kindred spirits. Growing up in the middle of nowhere, looking at me you would never guess that I spent two years in a makeshift basement apartment in the projects of West Philly sharing a home with the strongest grandmother I've ever met and several of her grandchildren (when playing basketball in the hood, referencing your engineering degree regarding a disputed score is a great way to encourage someone to punch you). My framework of risk and purpose was drastically shifted living with a middle-class Latino family who spent many years as peacemakers and community builders among warring tribes and narco-traffickers. I fell tragically in love with their daughter and ran away to be a glorified manny for a super-rich Chinese family teaching their little emperor ‘murican English (someone peeled my grapes, cleaned my running shoes and prepared my French-pressed coffee to perfection daily). This was quite an awkward and humbling experience, difficult to process and yet overwhelming in shifting my perceptions on serving honorably and receiving undeserved love.
The title character in Shantaram claims that, “Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we've loved them, left them, or fought them.” Respect that battle; had my own ignorance won out, my father would have died without us struggling together to love and understand each other. Be vulnerable, be okay with the possibility of being wounded and open to attack. It frees others to grow into their true identity. Allow other people to be mysterious, our healed scars, travel experience and desire for strangers, enemies and loved ones to reach their potential allow us to love people wholeheartedly on our non grumpy days. Love holds things together, sees the potential, cares not cures, sacrifices entitlements, offers everything without expectation; is quick to listen and slow to speak.
love to my B.A.L.L.S. (Books, Art & Leisure Lovers’ Society)
Check out Typhoon’s White Lighter album and anything by Geographer
Peter Kyle Gackenbach
Baltimore, Maryland USA