Only in uncertainty are we naked and alive. Peter GabrielYesterday, a client came to me at the shelter where I work and asked me to help him with a passage in a play he's working on. The play will be performed next week at a conference by a cast of individuals experiencing homelessness as well as those working in the sector, or simply interested in taking part.
Watching Chuck* rehearse for this play for the past three months has been inspiring. When he first spoke to me about it, he said, "I don't know if I want to do it. It's a big commitment. Three months."
"What if you just go for the first meeting and then decide if you'll go back for the next one?" I asked him.
He went for the first and has been committed to being at every one of the sessions. It isn't just the play that has touched him. It is the director's commitment to creating a safe place for each actor to speak of themselves without fear that has moved him most.
Yesterday, when he came to me, he said, "I need to rewrite this paragraph to have meaning for me. I was wondering if you would be able to help me."
The passage he wanted to re-write was about 'truth'.
"What he [the playwright] is saying is that sometimes, truth hurts and if it does, don't speak it." he said as we discussed the passage.
"If I am speaking my truth in love, I cannot hurt others. My truth is not about my observations of them, or what I see to be true for someone else, it is about what is true for me."
Chuck paused for a moment, and asked. "But if you think I'm having a bad hair day and tell me, aren't you speaking the truth and hurting me?"
"If I think you're having a bad hair day, that's just a judgement or observation made by me about you through my eyes. That's not truth. It's my opinion. If you ask me what I think of your hair, I can tell you what is true for me, what I observe, but if you don't ask, I don't have the right to tell you. You may love your hair that day. If you feel insecure about it, you will ask me for my opinion -- that's your truth."
Chuck laughed. "In the passage my character is saying to another person, 'you have nothing. Good people always have something.' Isn't he telling the other character the truth? You are a bad person?"
"What if your character is actually telling his truth. He believes if he has nothing, he must be a bad person because he's done something to lose it all? What if he is translating the circumstances of his life to create a truth he can live with?"
"You mean like me. I'm homeless. I have nothing. Therefore I must be bad."
"Is that your truth?"
He paused. Took a breath. His body relaxed into the chair where he sat across from my desk. "What if it's not true?" he whispered. "What if the mistakes I've made don't make me a bad person, they just led me to being homeless?"
What if I didn't judge myself by my mistakes, but rather learned from them? What if I didn't condemn myself for my mistakes, but used them as the learning ground upon which I grew?
For many, homelessness has been a process of letting go of everything in their lives to find themselves with nothing. For many of the people at the shelter, the process of becoming homeless led them to condemn themselves for the things they've done to create the turmoil in their lives. And in their condemnation, they hold themselves pinioned to the backdrop of their past. Immobile. Immovable. Irredeemable. Like a butterfly on a mat. Beautiful throughout eternity, but never free to fly again.
Yesterday, as I watched Chuck see himself through a different perspective, I saw a man embracing the truth of the beauty of his spirit. He is not a bad man because he has nothing. He is lost. Perhaps. Alone. Without. Perhaps. But he is not a bad man.
With that truth, his wings began to flutter as his spirit quivered to be set free.
The question is: Do you condemn yourself for your mistakes, or do you use them as the foundation for change, for growth, for healing so you can create a life worthy of your truth?