When I first started journeying with people who have suffered much (and continue to suffer much) I imagined myself as a sort of knight in shining armour. I was riding in to rescue the damsel in distress. I was going to save people. Hell, I was going to save the world.
Thankfully, I learned pretty early on that that’s not who I am. That’s not who any of us are.
“Knight in shining armour? Where the hell were you when everything was happening to me? You never picked me up off the ground. You never stopped him from doing what he did to me. You can’t be my knight in shining armour. You’re seven years too late.”
It’s impossible to be a knight in shining armour to people who are already broken. You can’t save them from being broken… they already are.
Of course once you realise this about one person, and then another, and then another, and then another… you also learn that dreams of saving the world don’t really fit in either.
So then I started thinking, well, I may not be able to save the world but I’ll save myself. At least I’ll absolve myself of complicity. Like Jeremiah I’ll be able to say that the blood of others is not on my hands.
But I can’t save myself. I am too deeply immersed in the systems I was born into. I am too weak, too frail, too blind.
So then I began to view myself as a tragic hero. Someone who does all he can to triumph over the forces around him but in the end the powers that be are too strong and overwhelm him. Yes, I too would “rage, rage into the night”. I would be Tarrou in Camus’ “La Peste”, submersing myself among plague victims, doing what I could to relieve their sufferings, until I too succumbed to the disease.
But I’m no tragic hero. As if this is all so romantic. What I do is not tragic. When people ask about my job with the homeless youth I often just say that I plunged a lot of toilets. Apparently I’m good at that. There’s nothing romantic about plunging toilets. And suffering is only romantic to those who have never experienced it. To those who have, it just… hurts. And I’ve watched a kid get refused entrance to our drop-in on Christmas day. I didn’t even think to try and work it out so that he could come in. I just stood in the door to support my co-worker and dodged when the kid, screaming and crying, spat at me. No, I’m no hero.
But that’s fine. It’s okay that these things are impossible, I don’t need any of them anymore. I don’t need to be something more than I am. I don’t need to be a hero or some sort of tragic icon. And I don’t need to save the world.
No, I’m just going to love people. That’s all. No provisos, expectations or exceptions. And there’s freedom in that. I’ve left my armour on the field, shrugged the world off my shoulder, laughed off the tragic romance, and discovered myself free to love and be loved.
Not that this means that broken people are damned to always being broken, or that we are always damned to weakness or failure. It’s just that all these things are in somebody else’s hands. And the one who holds these things is the one who calls us beloved.