By Emily Prill, Berrigan House, Syracuse NY 16. University of Dayton 16.
Masks are quite prevalent these days. Some of us, begging to be noticed yet not seen. Others, longing for a different kind of anonymity, don more traditional masks, with just enough fabric to ensure blending into monotony. Different masks, yet both guarantee a barrier of mutual insulation, a wall of protection.
My mask began as many do—as an innocent, occasional prop that I would pull out in times of emergency. Times when I wanted to hide behind the shadow of someone better and less flawed. But quickly, my mask became more than just a face. It morphed into an armor that I wouldn’t leave home without. When something was too painful or too hard to bear, I didn’t have to worry about it penetrating me, for I held up the shield and cowered behind it.
“Cherish your broken heart. It anchors you to what you care about…Be comfortable with your essential wound. Be a friend with your brokenness,” were the words of one of my heroes, Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries, which is a rehabilitation program for former gang members. He shared this thought at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, an event held annually in Washington, DC.
I had seen Father Greg speak a few times before and though his words always moved me, these particular ones navigated the chinks in my armor. They watered my parched heart. Father Greg’s words made me think. But more importantly, they made me feel.
Father Greg’s words brought me back to a place nearly 400 miles away physically, but one that during my JV year is somehow finding its way into my heart—The Samaritan Center in Syracuse, New York. When someone asks me what the Samaritan Center is, my default response is usually to rattle off that it’s a no questions asked soup kitchen that serves nearly 10,000 meals each month to those in need.
Next time someone asks; I hope my answer will be different. I hope that I’ll be able to get past my detachment and remember Father Greg’s words. I dream of telling them that the Samaritan Center is much more than a soup kitchen.
That the Samaritan Center is a gathering place. A family. Where both food and love are shared. It’s the place that Joan, a relentlessly gabby woman with piercing, albeit watery blue eyes calls her, “Sanctuary.”
It’s the place where I met Jim, a rugged, gravel-voiced, flannel-wearing man who happens to be sleeping outside and struggling with addiction.
It’s the place where over steaming cups of coffee, Darris confided to me that he struggles with mental illness, and I was able to admit to him the same.
It’s the place where Kris came to me with tears in her eyes. She told me that she didn’t know what to do because she was always the one giving the help.
I hope that one day I will ball my fingers into fists until my knuckles turn white, to gain the courage to say that the Samaritan Center is the
place where I see so many people take off their masks. So many people, that I can start to peel mine off too.
For, as I form bonds with individuals who know pain, struggle, and hardship intimately, I recognize that I need help too. We all do. In our shared humanity, no one is immune.
We are all vulnerable, fragile, and in process. It’s in our nature, part of the essential wound. And the only thing that soothes this wound is the ability to see one another as we really are, and to hold on anyway.
Perhaps in my heart’s unmasked brokenness, it is made whole.