Day 12 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 12

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen

Bill, the man with so many setbacks in his life, has become my special companion. He often comes with me on speaking trips. We have gone to Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and many other places over the years, and wherever we go, Bill’s cheerful presence is as important as my many words. Bill loves to tell jokes. In his simple, direct, unselfconscious way, he entertains people for hours, whether they are wealthy or poor, dignitaries or simple folks, bishops or table servers, members of parliament or elevator operators. For Bill, everyone is important and everyone deserves to hear his jokes. But at moments Bill’s sorrows can become too much for him. Sometimes when he talks about Adam’ who cannot talk, or Tracy, who cannot walk, he bursts into tears. Then he puts his arms on my shoulders and cries openly, without embarrassment. And after a while his smile returns and he continues his story.

Then there is Tracy’s radiant smile when a friend comes to see her, Loretta’s gentle care for those who are much more handicapped than she, and the many little ways in which David, Janice, Carol, Gordie, George, and the others pay attention to each other and to their assistants. They all are true signs of joy.

It is not surprising that many young men and women from all over the world want to come to Daybreak to be close to these special people. Yes, they come to care for them and help them in their needs. But they stay because those they came to care for have brought them a joy and peace they had not been able to find anywhere else. Sure, the handicapped members of Daybreak put them in touch with their own handicaps, their own inner wounds and sorrows, but the joy that comes from living together in a fellowship of the weak makes the sorrow not just tolerable but a source of gratitude. My own life in this community has been immensely joyful, even though I had never suffered so much, cried so much, and anguished so much as at Daybreak. Nowhere am I as well known as in this little community. It is totally impossible to hide my impatience, my anger, my frustration, and my depression from people who are so in touch with their own weakness. My needs for friendship, affection, and affirmation are right there for everyone to see. I have never experienced so deeply that the true nature of priesthood is a compassionate-being-with. Jesus’ priesthood is described in the letter to the Hebrews as one of solidarity with human suffering. Calling myself a priest today radically challenges me to let go of every distance, every little pedestal, every ivory tower, and just to connect my own vulnerability with the vulnerability of those I live with. And what a joy that is! The joy of belonging, of being part of, of not being different.

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