Listening Post #4: The Wisdom We Hold

Martin says he is damaged beyond repair. He repeats it again, sadly shakes his head, half statement, half question:  I'm just damaged beyond repair? He doesn't sound totally convinced.

This comes after a stream of agitated, pressured-speech snippets about the abuse he has suffered in the past, largely at the hands of his mother. "My iffy mother" he calls her. After months of hinting at his startling, disturbing, four-decades-long history, he is covering a lot of ground rapidly, running through a series of traumatic events any one of which would be enough to break the human spirit. By the end of this somewhat disjointed but passionate recitation, he crumbles into himself. That's when he mutters that most devastating self-assessment. "I'm damaged beyond repair."

And so I remind Martin of an exchange we had a few months ago. He was rambling, locked in the internal logic of his own fantastic world. After about 10 minutes of this, I am not proud to say that I attended to my own internal monologue of judgment and frustration, and started looking for a space, a pause, some opening to end the conversation and move on.  Suddenly, Martin stopped mid-sentence, maneuvered to look me straight in the eye, and in a calm, focused and completely normal voice said, "You will never know the wisdom I hold."

Just as quickly, he was off again, so aware but so confused. Once I retrieved my jaw from the sidewalk, I knew I had just been gifted with a moment of amazing clarity and insight that changed, humbled, and somehow fortified me. Martin's comment has become an important teaching and commentary on my tendency to judge the hearts and habits of others;  I repeat it to myself often.

And so on this day, I return the gift,  reflect his own insight back to him. Martin, do you remember when you said that I would never know the wisdom you hold?  He pauses, and then says Yes, yes I do.  I am somewhat amazed by this, but ask him if maybe, just maybe, some of the wisdom he holds is a belief that damaged people can heal?  Maybe what is broken can be repaired?  Now he looks startled, thoughtful, stares at me intently. Well ya know, I'm gonna have some lunch and think about it, he says, and wanders off to get a place in line for the free meal.

And I'm gonna think about it too.  So many of us walk around reflexively repeating the destructive messages we have absorbed throughout our lives.  But, like Martin, all of us also have the antidote, that inner wisdom that we all hold, the power to heal. We just need to remind each other Who we are from time to time.

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