I sit opposite them. It’s in these moments I exist undistracted. My focus is on them, their story, their very posture towards the past and before the world. Sometimes, I look at them, into their eyes. But more often, I look to the corner of my vision, that liminal space which reaches towards the life and language of another, beyond my own logic and convictions. To be immersed in an existence not my own. The desire is not to know everything, but to know even a little. Without translation, without projection, without interruption.
Then what do I see? What do I feel? Deep respect. And the unflinching weight of sorrow. For I see such strength, such beauty buried within their stories, untold courage behind every scar. But the world does not celebrate or acknowledge it. Applause is reserved for those who turn privilege into power, opportunity into abundance. No one gives a shit about creatio ex nihilo, the miracle of turning nothing into something. The metric of success in the world is outward abundance. To endure existence, to run the still marathon of suffering – such silence drowns in the roaring oceans of achievement.
But they’re not wanting applause. No, the deeper anguish is located within themselves. I believe all they want – all anyone really needs – is home: for existence to feel like home, to not be a foreigner before oneself and the world. But what is theirs is not their own. And yet for others, for the secure, those ignorant of suffering, what is not theirs is their own. Yes, irony is often tragic; causality all too cruel. For causality is truly two-faced, promising consistency to all, yet showing itself as capricious and arbitrary to some. Cause-and-effect, conditions-to-consequent, reality submits to no formula sheet or fixed program. I cannot believe, I will not believe, that the pain of those before me is proportionate to their respective failings. They did not fail to secure themselves. No, reality has failed them — that of health, people, culture, economy, political structures, religion and ideology – and they are left with false promises of home but never actually home itself.
I sit opposite them. After their story, I’m left before them. What do I then do? What do I then say? Reflective listening. Expressions of empathy. Encouragement. Affirmation. An attempt to show love. Sometimes, I offer a sliver of advice. Other times, I offer to pray. Many times, I sit in silence, offering only my presence. But countless times, when those moments conclude, when we part ways, I say to myself, to them, and to God – indeed, I say it in silence, for I’m often too weak to speak my mind: “I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough…” I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough…
I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough…
Those words leave me again and again. I feel like Sisyphus, condemned to an eternal recurrence. But my boulder is empathy, and my hill the endless pursuit of hope. In different contexts. In unexpected circumstances. Yes, I’m not old and wise, but I’m no longer so young and naive. I don’t know the complexity of the world, but I’ve experienced parts of it. With close friends. With strangers. In the land of privilege and opportunity, in parts of the world where I couldn’t speak the language. I’ve been to emergency rooms. Visited friends and those I work with in hospitals. In acute mental health units. Painful stories of psychosis, cancer, dementia, death, divorce, moral failings, loss of trust and community, racism, sexism, broken families. I’ve seen the world assault innocence, again and again. I’ve come to know deeper, scarier darkness within myself. Pride, anger, lust, despair, apathy. The many poisons of the soul.
I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough… And I’ve tried to think that if I were stronger, life could be better. For me and for those I listen to. If I knew more. If I were more disciplined. If I were more confident. If I weren’t as shy. If I weren’t so short. If I were a tall, white male, with charisma and eloquence. If I had more answers. If I could identify the problem. If I were more spiritual. If I had the supernatural gifts of healing or prophecy. If I could laugh more. If I had contagious happiness. Really, if I had anything, yes, anything more to offer than the insufficiency of myself.
But I am no hero. I’m not the main character. I’m no messiah. Have I misunderstood the extent of my responsibility as a single individual in a world of billions? Perhaps, the burdens of my heart are disproportionate to what is required of me, what I’ll only ever be capable of. But I cannot run away from the paradox of myself: perhaps, I know more than my heart can carry, feel more than my own hands could ever handle. Some say that I still expect too much, that I have not learned to compromise. Others say I’m fighting phantoms, that my imagination and learning have gotten the better of me. But I’m unwilling to believe them. The status quo is fucked, and nothing less than that. Those who defend the status quo are only those benefiting from it, silencing and gaslighting those who suffer under its tyranny.
I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough…
…thank you, may I believe this is enough!
I have no justification for it. No eloquent, cogent arguments. (But only monsters believe logic and truth address suffering.) But it is there. A step towards faith, not a step of faith, for the step does not possess the quality of faith, but rather produces it, reaches for it. A pitiful yet powerful hope which the strong trivialize and the weak treasure. To move from the self-reflexive to the ablative. (Yes, I believe thanksgiving requires both the accusative and the dative.) From the indicative to the cohortative. From subjectivity or objectivity (what’s the difference!) into the subjunctive. From despair to joy. From helplessness to encouragement.
And I know that most people do this already. They are life-long practitioners of gratitude, possessing a subconscious fluency of joy. And they don’t even need god for it. They cut the middle-man out: after all, who needs a misogynistic, racist, violent, and jealous deity in order to be happy? But I’m a slow-learning disciple of joy. A child lost in a world of adults. Yes, I need my Jesus. So if that makes me weak and pitiful, then I will boast in my foolishness. For the life of Jesus showed women to be stronger than men, the poor richer in heart and faith than the upper-class, the ethnic outcasts more treasured than the cultural majority. For the companionship of the Holy Spirit reminds me that I’m loved despite my lack of achievements, speaks of hope when I despair over past and present, empowers me to take single steps when I lose all strength. The Cross has turned the world upside-down, both in the here and now, but also not quite yet.
God became so utterly weak for the world. And either God achieved absolutely nothing, or this world of weakness is transforming, by weakness, through weakness, only because of weakness. And yes, after nearly 2000 years of an empty tomb, the status quo is still fucked. How weak the Gospel is! For every Koorong best-seller, for all those hyped, constructed testimonies, there are countless untold stories of hurt, disappointment, of broken lives within a broken world. But I believe the Gospel is enough, in both its power and weakness, for both the best-selling authors and those still waiting. The world offers me no better alternatives. I have nothing myself to offer either. So I commit to the gambler’s fallacy again and again: I take steps towards faith again and again. I bet on weakness. I continue to hope within a broken world. I choose to rejoice with those who otherwise have every right to be bitter. I deny truth for the sake of beauty, for the former in itself fails to secure the latter.
I sit beside them. We share the same focus, no longer looking between each other, but together, towards the horizon. The horizon fills our vision. It is not peripheral; it is preeminent. It is the acknowledgement of what is both here and now, and what is yet to come. The intersection of heaven and earth. The very engine room of creatio ex nihilo. I sit beside them and feel encouraged. In such moments of immersion, all language and logic dissolves. The inexplicable eclipses the explicable. These moments don’t last, but they are counterweights to my sorrow, to the violence of reality, to the hurts of those before me. And these moments, to be beside another, to be before the horizon, these moments are the momentum of my hope.
How weak, how fragile this hope is… but it’s not like myself or anyone else were any stronger.
Thank you, may I believe this is enough!
Used with permission from Bella Nassif.