Posted by: Dan | March 29, 2019

Homelessness, Toxic Masculinity, White Supremacy, and the Trauma of Love: A Presentation for Sarnia Speaks

[On March 28, 2018, I was invited to both moderate and participate in a panel discussion about Trauma at an event hosted by a group called Sarnia Speaks, located in Sarnia, ON. What follows is the transcript I used for both my introductory moderator remarks, and the presentation I did as a panelist. It was a wonderful evening and I am very grateful to those who invited me to participate.]

Acknowledgements

Boozhoo. Dan Oudshoorn nidizhinikaaz.  Zhaaganash endaaw (Dutch, Scottish, and British).  Deshkan Ziibiing ndoonji. London ndinda. Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Wendat, Attawandiron Aki.  Mizhiike Minisi.

Hello, my name is Dan Oudshoorn. I’m a White person of Dutch, Scottish, and British descent. I was raised by the Antlered River and London is where I live. I come from Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Wendat, and Attawandiron territory on Great Turtle Island.

I wish to begin by acknowledging the land where we have gathered. By acknowledging the land, I am acknowledging many things that are understood to be a part of the land. For example, when I acknowledge the land, I also acknowledge the water that gives us life, Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin, the five great freshwater seas, especially our neighour, Naadwe-gichigami, as well as the smaller lake, Waawyaataanaang, and the Gichigami-ziibi which flows between them. But I cannot acknowledge this life-giving water, without acknowledging the water of life that flows from the body of a mother when a child is born, and so I also acknowledge the mothers here who give us life. And the earth, too, is our first mother who cares for us, and nurtures us, and from whom we are birthed and to whom we return. The earth is also the mother of the animal nations, the fish nations, and the bird nations, who are a part of this land. I lift my hands to them. I also lift my hands to the plant nations. From the tall standing ones, to the three sisters, to the fungal networks that distribute food throughout the forest. And I acknowledge the rocks and minerals who teach us with a language older than words. And I especially acknowledge the people of this land. To say that we are meeting on Anishinaabe Territory—as we are—is to say that the Anishinaabe belong to the land and that this is their home. Acknowledging this means also acknowledging that me and my people do not belong to this particular land. Therefore, when I acknowledge the land, as I am doing now, I lift my hands to honour the Anishinaabe, especially those from Aamjiwnaang. Thank you for the ways in which you have cared for this land. Over many, many centuries your people have cared in a way that contributed to the flourishing of life in all of its great diversity. Thank you for this. Not only this, but thank you for sharing space with myself, my children, and my loved ones who have come from other lands. Thank you for teaching my people the medicines of this land, thank you for teaching us to listen to and follow the leadership of our women, thank you for teaching us not to hit our children, and thank you for teaching us that the sacredness of life is a part of everything. Onishishin.

As a Canadian of Christian-European descent, it is impossible for me to express this gratitude without also acknowledging the truly amazing grace that the Anishnaabe and other original peoples have shown to me and my people, because the Anishinaable have continued to care for the land and they have continued to share their teachings with my people, despite all the ways in which my people have violated and continue to violate them, their women, their children, and their mother, the earth. I do not believe that confessing this removes the stain of theft, colonization, and genocide from me or my people. Therefore, I make this acknowledgement, in part, to remind my people of this. As a part of this reminder, I would like my people to remember that it makes no sense whatsoever to verbalize land acknowledgements if we are not also actively working towards decolonization. We cannot acknowledge the land without simultaneously acknowledging indigenous sovereignties.

So, yes, I acknowledge the land, I acknowledge the Anishinaabe of Aamjiwnaang who are of this land, and I acknowledge my own relationship to this land and the people thereof, knowing that I do so as a person who shares responsibility for the actions of his own people and who, along with his people, should be held accountable both for words and deeds.

Miigwetch and miigwetch ndi kid nongom giizhigak.

Shaping Space

Okay, keeping this context in mind, I want to also cover a few matters related to the space we are in, how we want it to be framed and held, and how we want to share in it together. It is our desire that this space be safe in a way that makes it okay for people to be vulnerable. Those of us who are tasked with speaking tonight will be sharing from our hearts and we hope that our words and stories will be received by your hearts. In other words, we are hoping to participate in a shared experience that is somehow transformative.  Our goal isn’t to make you each smarter or more knowledgeable. Our goal is that this evening is one step in a process of reshaping communities to be less violent, less apathetic and less divided, and more gentle, caring, and united. We will be allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to try and contribute to this. We ask that you also allow your hearts to be vulnerable as you participate in this.

I understand that this is a lot to ask but I believe that we are living in dark days. That means our task is that much more difficult and that much more urgent. So, before we go any further, I would like us to take a minute in shared silence. For the first thirty seconds, I would like you to reflect on the reasons why you guard your heart, the pain and sore spots you try to protect and keep safe by guarding your heart in that way, and how what you might hear tonight could rub against your pain and trigger a defensive response rather than an open response.  Because some difficult things will be said tonight—perhaps unexpectedly difficult things. Not only will things like death, abuse, sexual violence, and other experiences of trauma come up, but you may find yourself taken aback by how a person makes sense of their trauma. Expect to feel discomfort. But please try to prepare yourself to sit in that discomfort. When it comes to the discussion time, please try to remain vulnerable and observe if you feel yourself getting defensive. If, for example, the mention of male violence against women and children makes you want to say, “not all men,” please don’t.  But if, on the other hand, if you feel uncomfortable about yourself as a man in light of these things and you don’t understand why saying “not all men” is an inappropriate response, please, in the spirit of our shared vulnerability, feel free to ask why that’s the case. We’re all starting where we’re starting from. And we can only move forward together if we are honest about where we are at now.

That said, in the discussion period, please also do not feel the need to try and fix, counsel, convert, save, or solve people. Those of us on the panel are not coming to you looking for individual healing (or conversion or whatever else), and it is both presumptuous and condescending to think that what we want to hear is some platitude about well-being and your ability to fix us or your hope that we will one day be fixed, find peace, be whole, or whatever. If that’s your response, you have overlooked the fact that it takes a great deal of strength and well-being to stand in front of a room of strangers and speak about these things. Furthermore, when we encounter stories of great pain, we sometimes feel like we need to say something in response. People say all kinds of silly and harmful things as a result of this. If that’s what you’re feeling, go ahead and feel free to learn from the discomfort that you experience by saying nothing.  Or feel free to say a simple thank-you to the panelists.  Thank-yous are nice.  So, all that to say, for the first thirty seconds of silence I want you to think about your heart, the pain you carry there, how you guard it, and how you will commit to trying to lower your guard and keep it lowered so that we can all share heart-to-heart.

For the second thirty seconds, if you are willing to do so, I would like you to continue in silence but place your hands palm upwards to show your willingness to open yourselves to others and to hold their stories, and their pain as gently as you know how. We understand that very often people don’t actually know how to be gentle with the pain of others, and those of us who are sharing accept this as a fact every time we choose to share, but what we are looking for is a willingness to do the best you can. If you’re anxious or shy and don’t place your hands palm upwards because the idea of that really stresses you out, I won’t take that as a sign you are not committed to this. I will assume you are committed to this simply by your choice to remain here.  So do whatever you are comfortable doing and if leaving is what you are comfortable doing, whether because you cannot make this commitment or because you have decided tonight might be too heavy or raw for what you can face into right now, or for any other reason at all, you are also welcome to leave at this time and I will not think any less of you if that’s what you do. In fact, I will respect your honesty and see it as a reason to hope. Okay, then, let’s begin. I will signal the transition from the first thirty seconds to the second thirty seconds by holding up my hands.

[minute of silence]

Thank you. There are a few things I want to mention before moving into a brief introduction to the topic of trauma. First, we have people situated by the doors who will be available to speak with you in another room if, at any time, you feel upset and need to leave and talk with someone.  Please wave, people! If you leave without giving one of these people a thumbs up, they will probably follow you out just to make sure you are okay. So, if you’re just using the bathroom or needing a moment alone – and please feel free to come and go as you see fit – please give a thumbs up to one of them so that they don’t chase you down and freak you out. Finally, although my co-panelists will introduce themselves as they see fit when they speak, I want to present each of them with a stone. These stones remind me that the panelists have proven their strength and their ability to endure great hardships without being destroyed. These stones remind us that when these speakers speak about these things, we should pay attention. I think these stones are also beautiful and, a such, they are a gift to those who are lucky enough to be in their presence. And we, too, are fortunate to be in the presence of these panelists tonight. I lift my hands to them.

Trauma: A Few Key Points

At this point, I will only very briefly touch upon a few key points pertaining to trauma and how we understand it.  I think this will help contextualize our conversation, and, if it’s useful, we can always pick up on these points in more detail in the group conversation after the panelists speak.

First of all, when defining trauma, I personally rely upon the definition given by Judith Hermann in her groundbreaking work, Trauma and Recovery. She defines trauma in this way:

trauma is an affiliation of the powerless.  At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force… Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning… Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life.

The critical observation here is that we need to distinguish between painful experiences and trauma. Trauma is not a synonym for “something that must be super, really, very extremely painful.” Rather, trauma refers to the ways in which our experiences can or cannot be integrated into the systems of meaning in which we participate, the sense of identity and belonging that we develop over time, and the general expectations we have of the world.  In other words, what makes trauma so traumatic is not so much the ways in which it changes us, as the ways in which it changes everything else.  To illustrate this, I find it useful to compare trauma to a tidal wave.

tidalwave

A tidal wave is terrifying and deadly. It can hit unexpectedly and absolutely level a person. If that person survives, they will likely be in pain, have some physical injuries, abrasions, broken bones, and so on. But here’s the thing: once the water recedes, the entire world looks different.

AfterTidalWaveJapan

What was familiar, safe, and secure, now looks devastated, dangerous, and unfamiliar.  What was once a home has been transformed into a wasteland fraught with perils. Then, just as one is getting one’s bearings in this new world and beginning to heal, an aftershock occurs bringing in another wave that once again flattens the person, rearranges the environment, and reminds them that nothing will be safe or familiar ever again.

Understanding trauma in this way, helps us to see that there is no list of specific experiences that always count as traumatic or not traumatic or “not traumatic enough.” To illustrate this, I like to compare physical trauma to emotional or spiritual trauma. A few years ago, I knew a man who was punched in the face and fell over backwards and died. Around the same time that this happened, I knew another man who was stabbed fourteen times—including once in the neck—and he was in and out of the hospital on the same day. So, in the first case, a seemingly small thing had lethal consequences and in the second case a seemingly large thing did only superficial damage. So it goes with physical traumas, but I think the same thing can happen with our internal, emotional, or spiritual traumas. One person can experience one event that breaks their heart totally and forever and they never come back. Another person can get their heart broken fourteen times and keep coming back stronger than ever. This is an important point because I think people are constantly comparing their experiences to the experiences of others, engaging in a form of “trauma policing” in order to invalidate the feelings of others or, just as importantly, invalidate their own feelings of hurt. We need to listen to people when they share their hurts with us. But we also need to listen to our own hurts in the same way. If we are invalidating our own hurts, belittling our own wounds, and ignoring our own traumas, then there is a good chance that we will also invalidate, belittle, and ignore others when they share their hurts with us. What this produces is a community of people who are increasingly isolated in their hurts, who feel increasingly like they don’t matter, and who then either act violently towards themselves or other people. In other words, we end up with either Amanda Todd, who died by suicide in 2012 because she believed nobody would ever be able to help her through her pain and loneliness, or Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured fourteen others before killing himself in 2014 because he was so angry at all the pretty girls who didn’t feel obligated to fuck his loneliness away.

 

But here’s the thing, and I will have more to say about this later, society teaches some people to blame themselves and other people to blame others.  If, for example, you’re a woman or a person of colour (or, especially, both), then you have probably been told to blame yourself. But if you’re a White man, you’ve probably been told to blame women and people of colour.

However, and this is the last introductory point I want to make, I believe that every person in this room has experienced trauma and I would not be surprised if a lot of the people here are still carrying unresolved traumas. It seems to me that, more and more often, people are going through their days feeling as though they have been given more than they can bear.

nobody

Everyone.

That’s why the smallest act of kindness can lead a person to burst into tears, or the smallest inconvenience—like being stuck being a slow driver—can result in outbursts of violence and rage.

The truth is that our culture operates with a very toxic understanding of what matters and what makes you important and if things keep going the way they are, then I expect more people to become more traumatized, more isolated, and more violent towards themselves or other people. Consequently, while we may talk about self-care tools or survival strategies this evening, it’s important to realize that we can’t self-care our way out of this—we can only really begin to collectively experience a more abundant life if we start to find ways to shape our life together in a manner that is life-giving and life-affirming. A part of that means confronting structures and systems that are death-dealing. And tonight’s event is one step towards that goal.  Thanks for being here. We’re now ready for the panelists.

My Panel Contribution: Homelessness, Toxic Masculinity, and White Supremacy

My goal for this presentation is to talk about the trauma of homelessness and relate that to the violence of toxic masculinity and White supremacy. As I do this, I will share some of my most intimate and personal experiences of abandonment and devastation in an effort to try and explain what I think are some of the root causes of the current resurgence of misogynistic men’s rights groups, and neo-fascist movements focused on White Nationalism. I am grateful for your willingness to make yourself vulnerable as you listen because I am now making myself very vulnerable with you.

I was seventeen years old in the very cold and icy January of 1998 when my parents made me homeless. I was given an hour to pack whatever belongings I could carry with me and was told that anything I left behind would be thrown in the garbage. When I asked if I should phone or try to stay in touch, my father responded by saying, “No, just get out of my life.” And so, with a backpack on my back and a large black garbage bag in each hand, I walked out the door, down a quiet frozen suburban street, and into a world that would never be the same again.

Since then, I have often wondered about the idea of “home.”  What is “home”? Is it where you sleep? A place where you pay rent or a mortgage? A relationship? Or what? Because, truth be told, I felt homeless long before I found myself couch-surfing, catching thirty minutes of sleep in a coffee shop before being kicked out and walking to the next one, or curling up under the climbers at a park close to my parents’ house because I was too scared to go to homeless shelters.

homesweethome

Home Sweet Home

Looking back on my childhood, I don’t remember feeling at home. My earliest memories are of being afraid. Always, all the time, afraid. My father was violent but, as far as I could tell then, there was no rhyme or reason to his violence. Sometimes he would be playful, often he would be withdrawn, and sometimes he would hit you and you would know why, but other times he would hit you and you never saw it coming. I remember one day I was playing hockey in the driveway and I fell and winded myself and started to cry. My dad saw me from the front window and called me inside. I thought he was going to comfort me and check my injuries. Instead, as soon as the door was closed, he hit me in the face, smashed my head off the wall, and knocked me to the ground. He told me to never ever cry in public like that.  As he did so often when he hit me for crying, he looked at me like he was completely disgusted with me.  I’ll never forget the way that look made me feel. And then he told me to get up. But I was so stunned that I couldn’t move. I was frozen—a small and hurting nine-year-old boy with a six-foot-tall man towering over him. And that’s when my dad decided to start kicking me. I don’t remember anything after that.

In fact, there’s a lot that I don’t remember about my childhood and that’s one of the things about childhood trauma—the developing brain records traumatic memories differently than other memories. Instead of memories being recorded in a smooth, linear fashion, traumatic childhood memories are often recorded as sensations and feelings that can sometimes become associated with certain smells, sounds, or other elements that were present when the trauma took place. It can take years to figure these out. For example, it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I began to remember sexual abuse that I experienced when I was a very young boy. But these memories weren’t like other memories, they weren’t like other thoughts, they were… different. In fact, they felt more like sensations—like all of a sudden I was remembering how a child feels when an adult does something with the body of that child, or I was remembering how a child feels when that child is required to do other things with the body of an adult—but I wasn’t exactly remembering being that child, or remembering who the adult was, or any of the other who, what, when, where, why, and how details. All I had was the sensation of that feeling emerging out of nowhere leaving me wondering where in the world it came from.

It took me years to work through all of that and, though the sensations, feelings, and dreams I have had don’t add up to a slam-dunk, 100% certain answer to all my questions, coming to the conclusion that all of these things point to me being sexually abused as a child helps to make sense of a number of other areas in my life that have puzzled me. For example, it helps me to understand why people have targeted me for sexual harassment and assault at other times in my life, and why I have frozen in response and found it nearly impossible to say no or fight back. It also helps to make sense of why, out of four boys, I was the only one who was made homeless.  I was a straight-A student. I didn’t smoke, drink, or do any drugs. My best friends were from a church youth group and I carried my Bible to class just in case it led to an opportunity to talk about Jesus. In other words, I wasn’t a rebellious kid. But my dad may have had other reasons to cut me out of the family, to make me look like I was a fuck-up, to discredit me, and to leave me for dead.

So, I was made homeless and, because I had believed the lies the people who abused me told me about myself, I believed I deserved to be homeless. I thought I was a piece of shit who had ruined his family, broken his mother’s heart, and forever damaged things in a way that could never be healed. And so, because my dad was no longer around to beat me, I went out late at night looking for fights with guys who I knew could beat me up, because that was the form of self-harm that made sense to me. It was my way of seeking expiation for the guilt I felt.

Before we go any further in my own story, I want to pause to talk about how the violence I experienced as a boy was related to a toxic version of masculinity. I believe that the production of “men” in our culture is premised upon the devastation of boys. Acknowledging this makes me feel uncomfortable. Why? Because, in our context, the “victim narrative” has been appropriated by Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), or White Supremacists, who argue that men, and White men in particular, have been victimized by feminism, affirmative action, reverse racism, reverse sexism, and by all the other horrors that people like Jordan Peterson and Anders Breivik associate with “cultural Marxism.”

 

Not only do I reject this presentation of things because it’s premised upon really, really shitty scholarship, I also reject this presentation of things because it encourages, celebrates, and frequently results in outbursts of more and more violence against oppressed and vulnerable groups of people. Here, it should be recalled that Breivik, whose manifesto sounds identical to many Jordan Peterson lectures, hunted down and executed sixty-nine teenagers at a summer camp in 2011. However, these fellows and various other MRAs and White Supremacists are able to strike a chord with White men because, yes, men are suffering, men have suffered, and, yes, this is also true of White men, and, yes, some of these sufferings are very personal, very horrific, and very devastating, and cannot all be brushed aside as “first world problems” or the temper tantrums of a spoiled “man-child.”

The problem is that these groups misdiagnose the causes of male suffering. It’s not feminism or people of colour who are the sources of the sufferings of White men—it’s the very toxic masculinity that they are doubling-down on that is the source of the problem. It is patriarchal culture that does not care if men are unhappy. It’s patriarchal culture that doesn’t care about the feelings of men or boys. It’s patriarchal culture that urges men to do dangerous jobs, work long hours, and annihilate their own bodies, in order to make a living and support families that they see less and less of all the time. It’s patriarchal culture that has always taught men that they just need to be tougher, that they aren’t allowed to cry, that they have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in order to achieve what they want. And if men fail to achieve this, it’s patriarchal culture that tells men not to look at socioeconomic or political factors and to, instead, view all failed men as “bitches” and “pussies.” I think this was why my dad always looked so disgusted when he beat me—he wasn’t disgusted by the fact that he was a man beating a child, he was disgusted by the fact that his son was crying.

Therefore, because they misdiagnose the problem, MRAs and White Supremacists misdiagnose the solution. They acknowledge that men are suffering and create space for men to express their hurt, but they then reinforce the only emotional response patriarchy gives to men—they reinforce White, male rage. And this rage is directed at the traditional targets of White male rage—women, people of colour, and other vulnerable and oppressed groups of people, from Muslims shot in a mosque in Aotearoa, to Black Christians shot in a church in Virginia, to women targeted by a van driver on Yonge Street, to Matthew Shepard, beaten and tied to a fencepost and left to bleed and freeze and die, because he was gay. The solution is not more angry men. These men are simply discovering the rush of power that can be experienced when they transition from being the abused to being the abuser. bell hooks summarizes this well: “Boys brutalized and victimized by patriarchy more often than not become patriarchal, embodying the abusive patriarchal masculinity that they once clearly recognized as evil.” Because every child comes into the world wanting to love and be loved. Many a father has devastated his sons by beating this out of them. And what happens to these sons? Well, they end up going to frat parties and joking about how “no means yes … yes means anal,” like a sign recently announced at Western University, and they go on to become judges like Justice Kavanaugh, and they go on to boast in locker rooms about how they grab women by the pussy.

NoYes

These boys are taught to be forever insecure about whether or not they are manly enough, and this produces more and more outbursts of rage targeting vulnerable people. In this way, these boys vent their fear and prove their manliness. In other words, the violence of toxic masculinity is a highly addictive form of self-soothing. After my own experience of homelessness, I went on to spend most of my adult life living and working with others who are deprived of housing and I saw many people using things like alcohol, opiates, or amphetamines to try and sooth the pain they felt. I understand this.  There was a time in my life when I self-soothed with alcohol. But I have learned that sometimes the thing that most soothes a person’s pain momentarily in the here-and-now, ultimately also ends up becoming the most destructive thing in a person’s life over the long-term. When life feels unbearable, being drunk can offer you a beautiful momentary reprieve, but the more time you spend soothing yourself with drink, the more unbearable life becomes. And so it’s easy to spiral down and down and down. I believe that the resurgence of super aggressive, smarmy, masculinity that we are witnessing today is an equally self- and other-destructive form of self-soothing for men, especially White men.  Men are hurting, but the thing they are using to find momentary relief from their hurt is only deepening it over the long haul. The real solution means learning how to be men who are able to mourn and love and who are able to take responsibility for themselves and ask for the help they need to do that. When this happens, we will discover sons who feel at home with their fathers.

Before I say more about this, and tie that back into the trauma of homelessness I experienced, I want to suggest that one reason why we are witnessing a resurgence of White Power movements is because Whiteness, in our context, contains the trauma of homelessness within itself. Despite claims made in the national anthem about Canada being “our home and native land” and despite songs we were taught when we were children that tell us, “this land is your land, this land is my land … this land was made for you and me,” people of European-descent are awakening to the very uncomfortable and increasingly undeniable realization that, in fact, this land was stolen, that it continues to be stolen, and that the theft of this land is premised upon the ongoing extermination of the people whose home this is. Here, something very sneaky takes places. Through the rule of Law, White people try to use belongings as a substitute for belonging [SLIDE]. We are not from here, and so we transform here into a space or place or property that can be purchased and then we pay some money for a piece of paper that says this is ours. But this is all a lie and a way of trying to repress the fact that we are homeless. Because if there is anything that I learned when I was very young, it’s that having a room in a house, or even an entire house, is not the same thing as having a home.

NotHome

This is NOT a home.

However, as I well know, being homeless is a traumatic thing. I coped with that trauma by believing horrible things about myself and by finding people who would beat me up. But a lot of White people cope with the trauma of their homelessness by beating up others, especially the Indigenous peoples whose home this actually is.  Yet this violence only further demonstrates that White folx don’t belong. And this produces a vicious downward spiral of violence. I think Sarnia is well aware of this. Not only is much of the town earning a living in oil plants that are destroying the earth herself, but the oil plants are situated in a place where they are poisoning the Anishinaabe in ways that we have never witnessed before among people. In the past, I tried to talk about this with Sarnians and that’s when I heard all kinds of different racist names for Indigenous peoples that I had never heard before. So, I’m sorry if it upsets you to hear this and you feel like I’m coming into your house and talking shit I have no right to talk but the truth is that unless you’re Anishinaabeg, this is not your home.

So, how then, are White people like me to heal from this trauma of homelessness? Because getting people to sign pieces of paper that say, “okay, this all belongs to you now,” doesn’t resolve the matter. Furthermore, I think the radical individualism that has flourished in European and Settler European cultures since the Enlightenment—wherein people are increasingly fragmented from one another, wherein the individual is increasingly prioritized over the group, and wherein I define myself by how I set myself apart from others—really works against us finding our way home. Instead, I think that traditions indigenous to these territories help us find a better way. One of the things we learn by listening to Indigenous reflections about the land is that home is about recognizing that one does not exist independently of others but that one belongs in a network of relationships that spread out throughout space and time. Belonging is demonstrated by acting in a way that shows a deep commitment to the flourishing of all the individuals and all forms of life contained within that network. As an active and interconnected agent within the network, one also accepts that there are specific things for which one is responsible, and specific people to whom one is held accountable. Home, in other words, is where one is known and recognized as someone who belongs, where one is nurtured in their place of belonging, where one contributes to nurturing others, and where each is open and accountable to the others. To be at home, in other words, is to be in love. When we are in love, we are home.

And this is where I know want to return to the theme of love as it pertains to my own experience of the trauma of homelessness. After some time of being homeless, I had an unexpected encounter with a very big love. I was literally overwhelmed by a love so powerful that it changed my entire view of myself and the world in which I lived. In other words, recalling Judith Hermann’s definition of trauma, after experiencing the trauma of homelessness, I experienced the trauma of love. But this trauma was a good trauma. Instead of being shattered by violence, I was made new by lovingkindness. Instead of learning to view myself as worthless, I learned to view myself as beloved. Instead of viewing the world as a fundamentally unsafe place full of dangerous people, I realized that others—all others—were beloved just like me. And I wanted to let them know that. Especially if they had been told otherwise, especially if they had internalized the lie that made them believe they were pieces of shit.

And so, look, if you are a White man like me, and if you are angry, as I have often been, and if you have been taught that dominating others is the cure for your pain, and that owning things is the solution to your lack of belonging, I want you to know that you have been lied to. I want you to remember that when you first came into this world, you were beautiful and innocent and full of unconditional love for everything and everyone around you. And I want you to remember—and I offer myself as proof—that no matter what you have had to suffer and endure since then, nobody can ever take that completely away from you. You can still be gentle, you can still be kind, you can still be tenderhearted—with yourself and with all others. It’s not too late to come home. Yes, trauma can change us forever. We can never go back to being who we were before the trauma. But I have never known a trauma more powerful than the trauma of love, and I can never go back to being who I was before I was beloved.

I will close with a quote from L. R. Knost

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended [or made new]. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

Thank you very much.


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