Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Which weighs more? Guilt or Hope?

He is sitting by the door of the multi-purpose room, manning the table at the door, inviting guests to the memorial service to sign the guest book which lays spread open before him. He is young. Clean shaven. Clean cut looking. Tall and lean, he sits with his shoulders slightly hunched forward. He doesn't make eye contact with people walking in. Doesn't say anything. He just points to the book, picks up the ballpoint pen beside it and holds it out to each entrant.

It isn't busy. Only a dozen staff and a few more clients of the shelter where I work have turned up to celebrate the lives of four men who have passed away since September 15. They range in age from 41 to 63. All of them too young to die.

I see him flipping through the pages of the guest book. It's nothing fancy. A lined note book with a cover in deep blue. I too am curious about the pages in the book and walk over to take a look.

I introduce myself and ask if I can scan the pages with him. "Sure. It's kinda sad," he says. "There's so many."

We flip back through the pages. For each client who has passed away there is the 'Memorial Brochure', that two-sided, folded paper brochure with their name, photo, the agenda for the event, which is published for every memorial service we hold at the shelter.

We reach a page where one photo shows a man, youngish. "Wow. He doesn't look very old," the young man says.

"No. He doesn't."

He flips open the card. There's no date of birth.

"How old do you think he was?" he asks me.

"I don't know. Twenty, maybe."

"Yeah." He pauses. "Twenty. That could have been me," he adds quietly.

"I'm glad it's not," I tell him.

He sits quietly for a moment, nods his head up and down. Not too big a nod. Just a small motion. His eyes shift slightly down.

He looks up. Right at me. His blue eyes peering into my dark ones.

"This is hard," he says.

"What is that?"

"Being here. Seeing this," and he makes a slight sweeping motion with one hand to indicate the room. He takes a breath. "I'm here doing fine ops. [in lieu of jail time or a financial payment, people can 'work off' their fines by doing community service.] I never expected this."

"What did you expect?" I ask.

"I don't know. I sort of thought I'd come. Sweep floors and clean bathrooms and that would be it. I wasn't expecting this."

And for some reason he begins to tell me his story. He is 18. Turning 19 in two weeks he adds. Been to rehab. Prison. And now, clean and sober, he's working his way to being an adult.

"What do you want to do?" I ask him when he's finished talking.

"I really don't know," and repeats it. "I really don't know."

"What do you want more of in your life?" I ask him.

He blinks his eyes. Holds them shut for a fraction of a second and then, without hesitating replies, "Peace. I really want peace. But I've hurt so many people I love. Addicts do that you know. When they're using there's nothing else but their addiction and they don't care about who they hurt."

"We all hurt people," I tell him. "We may not mean to, but in our struggle to find ourselves, to be alive, we hurt people, along with loving them."

"Yeah, but, I carry a lot of guilt."

"Which is heavier? Guilt or hope?"

He looks at me, surprised by the question. "Heavier?"

"Yeah. If you had to weigh them, which is heavier?"

He laughs. Shrugs one shoulder. "Guilt. It weighs a ton."

"What if to find peace you have to quit being held down by guilt?"

He laughs again. "I'd have hope of finding peace."

"You've done a lot in your life to make things right. I'm inspired by your story," I tell him. "Thanks for sharing with me."

He nods his head again. That small motion of up and down. "Yeah? I've inspired you?"

"Yes you have. I'm honoured to meet you."

And another guest arrives. He picks up the pen and passes it to them. He flips the book back to the page for today's memorial service and we move on.

And I carry the thought of this young man with me. 18. He's just a baby. A little fledgling sparrow flying from the nest. So much pain. So much sorrow in a life so young.

And yet, so much strength. So much growth. So much courage. And so much hope for a better future than the past he's worked so hard to right.

I say a prayer of gratitude for this young man and his wisdom, courage and truth.

In his sharing I see it.  Guilt.

It does. Weigh a ton.

And it doesn't, do anything for us.

It just holds us in place. Stuck in feeling hopeless.

And in seeing it, I know, it is not guilt holding onto me, it's me hiding behind guilt in those moments when I refuse to see hope sparkling in the light of a new day rising.

I did some things well yesterday.

Some things not so well.

Those things that I can make amends for, I do. Those things that need no attention, I let go.

And no matter what I do, I release guilt and embrace hope. For no matter what, when I now better, I do better. And the rest, is just learning.

Today, I committ to doing my best.

No guilt. No regret. No shoulda's, coulda's or gonna's.

Just my best.

And my best is good enough.


Anonymous said...


a smart person taught me to re-think guilt - not from the catholic or jewish mother perspective, but to realize what it really is

the definition: guilt is the difference between what we say/think and what the truth is

this thinking can be bent or rationalized in many ways - but the essence of it is that we need to firstly speak the truth to ourselves, then speak it aloud to others

in time, we face more reality and feel less 'guilt' because we redefine what guilt really is

as for the young man you helped, good for you . . . and good for him

the learning you each did came from truth, not from guilt



Louise Gallagher said...

I absolutely agree Mark.

Maureen said...

Mark's definition got me to thinking about its various applications. One, perhaps, is couples counseling, in which each must own the "I" to state the feeling, the act, whatever it is that acts as barrier to communication and growth. To redefine guilt in the context of truth certainly can lead to greater awareness and openness. It's a first of many steps toward becoming whole.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Under the great weight of guilt lies a small feather of hope, hope that we will do better next time, hope that we will become the person we yearn to be, hope that love will guide us truly.

Releasing that feather can never be wrong.

Valerie Kamikubo said...

What a wonderful conversation, and a blessing to you both.

Fi said...

I never thought of it before in terms of guilt weighing a ton. This is such a great story.

I so admire the way you reach out to people, the stories you tell and the clarity you bring to such simple things.

You inspire me - daily!

Louise Gallagher said...

Ah yes Maureen -- speaking from the "I" keeps me grounded in 'what's mine' versus 'what's yours' or what I think is yours. It also keeps me out of 'victim'.


Louise Gallagher said...

Joyce, your description leaves me breathless.

Releasing a feather -- what beautiful imagery.

Louise Gallagher said...

Yes, Valerie, it was a blessing to us both -- thank you!

Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you Fi -- I tend to think in images -- and when I felt his guilt, that was the image that awoke -- heaviness. The weight of it was palpable.