April 12, 2021

My wounded healer

He was “my beloved friend, the most vulnerable of all people I have ever known and at the same time the most powerful.” — Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey

I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey, the published journal of the final year of his life. It’s a powerful read – one that has given me lots of thought-provoking and journal-provoking material.

If you’re not familiar with Nouwen, he was a Dutch Catholic priest and a prolific spiritual writer. In his 64 years, he published 39 books, several of which I have read. Henri, as I call him, has a powerful way of speaking to the deepest parts of my spirit.

After a distinguished career as a widely known theologian and Harvard professor, he spent the last 10 years of his life as pastor at Daybreak in Ontario, Canada. Daybreak is a residential community for people with intellectual disabilities.

A friendship with Adam

While at Daybreak, Henri formed a close bond with a resident named Adam, who could not speak and suffered from epileptic seizures. In 1996, Adam died and Henri writes of his deep grief at the loss of his friend.

Adam, he said, “reached into the depths of my heart and has touched my life beyond words.”

As I read about Adam, I thought of my Uncle Melrose, who had a profound intellectual disability yet was the most influential person I have ever known.

Uncle Melrose and me circa 1985

Remembering my uncle

I don’t know how he did it, but Uncle Melrose, like Adam, reached into the depths of my heart and touched my life beyond words. He was the most vulnerable man I’ve ever known, yet he was the most powerful.

My uncle, who died in 2001, exuded love and peace. He could only say a few words and needed help in almost every aspect of life. When we got together, we often sat in silence and it was like being in the presence of something holy.

Words are hard to find when it comes to describing how I feel about Uncle Melrose. But I made an attempt when I wrote a memoir about him titled My Father’s Eyes.

If I were asked who has been the most influential person in my life, it would be him — a man who lived in complete anonymity, yet who had so much to give.

Writing spark

When it comes to writing on this subject, we can go in a couple of directions.

First, consider in your journal who has been the most influential person in your life. This person may or may not have been a force for good, but he/she had a powerful impact on you. Consider what you learned from this person and the pluses and minuses they invoked.

Or

Think on paper how you can or have related to society’s most vulnerable citizens – the homeless, the mentally ill, the disabled. Have you had any personal experiences in this regard?

“In his brokenness he has shown me my own brokenness, and thus set me on the road to healing and new life.”

Henri Nouwen, speaking of Adam in Sabbatical Journey

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