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Our Shadow Selves

“Corruption in humans is same as compassion in God. Corruption's our only hope. Long as we have it there'll be lenient sentences and even an innocent man'll have a chance of being let off.”

-Mother Courage, Bertolt Brecht

I was reading my Richard Rohr meditation last week. This particular day was about our shadow selves. The bad parts. The parts that lie and cheat and steal. The parts that hurt the people we love and gossips about people behind their backs.

The deeper and darker sins as well. Those things we’ve done that we’ll never tell another soul. Those things that if anyone found out about they would surely never be able to love us again.

The mediation was about the fact that God loves us despite all of these things. He forgives us all these things. And that very unconditional love and forgiveness is exactly how we learn to love and forgive others. “If God can love me despite of ENTER BAD THING I’VE DONE HERE, then I have to love people despite of the bad thing that they’ve done. If I’m forgiven for this, then I have to forgive for that."

Those dark sides, those challenges, instead of horrible things, turn out to be the very things that allow us to feel empathy for others.

I put my phone down for a minute and thought about the point he was making.

As I finished up the reading, he went out to speak about physical limitations as well. Those, too, can be opportunities to let God love all of you, so you in turn can love all of someone else.

That last sentence hit me. I’ve been coughing and short of breath since January. But it’s been easy to hide it because I spend a lot of my work life alone. Blogging and solo plays are singular endeavors. Sure my parents were seeing it. Jaimie and was obviously aware. My sister Valerie would see me cough but other than that, the circle was pretty contained.

This past month I’ve had the great fortune to travel and see lots of friends. All of a sudden, people would have to see me wheeze when I walked up stairs. They would have to hear me cough before I went to bed. They would not be seeing all the masks I have carefully spent my life curating, they would see behind the veil. They would see me as I really am. I’d have to admit to my friend Dylan that I couldn’t go hiking in Montana. That I couldn’t help my friend Lauren bring her suitcase up the stairs. This is pretty much hell for a Two on the Enneagram scale like me. Two’s believe that we get love based on the help we give others. Also our pride is out of whack and we will go to any lengths to hide our needs from others.

So this whole month has been a humbling but necessary experience. To allow people to see me now at my best, I have no choice to accept it in other people.

This came full circle the other day. I was on campus and I overheard a conversation. Apparently one of the buildings had inadequate restroom access for people with disabilities. Someone with a disability wrote a very persuasive letter to the powers that be, walking them through all the steps they had to take to simply use the restroom in this building. It required them going outside, traveling around the entire building to make it to the one ramp that led to the one restroom they could use.

A year ago I would have heard this conversation, felt sympathy for the person, and then forgotten all about it. But now that conversation took on a whole different meaning. I thought about what would happen if the only restroom was in the third floor. How much I would cough walking up there. I thought about the NYC Subway system and how people in wheel chairs or with breathing issues manage the stairs and the broken elevators. How annoying and humiliating it must have been for this person to have to write a letter to higher ups describing her challenges at being able to use the bathroom with a little bit of dignity.

It’s sad that I can’t get to that level of empathy on my own. It’s sad that I have to have lung issues to care about the physical limitations of others. But because we are loved we can begin to love. Because we forgiven we can begin to forgive. Because we are seen we can begin to see.

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