I did something last week that I’ve wanted to do for many years. But I always pushed the impulse back down because I didn’t want to alienate my friends. They might not recognize the person they thought they knew; or they might not believe me, in which case I’d probably doubt the truth of our relationship. And so, the years went by and I remained silent.
Then last week, something shifted and I blurted out my secret. I was at a men’s group at a New Age church where I have been attending weekly services. There were about 20 of us sitting in a circle when Peter, one of our regulars, shared that he had been abused as a child and that this cast a shadow over any intimate relationship he tried to form. The group’s reaction was mostly awkward silence. After a moment, our facilitator suggested one-on-one counseling, throwing a blanket over any further sharing. But I understood immediately: Peter wanted to be seen.
Before I realized that I was about to share my secret, I started talking.
“When I was eighteen, I had an accident and was not expected to survive. It left me with severe brain damage. This is not obvious to people I know now, but I used to be what is considered a scientific genius. I had a doctorate from MIT and was co-author on breakthrough research. I was flooded with offers from places like the CERN Particle Accelerator in Switzerland. But the areas of my brain that had allowed me to be at home in the world of Particle Physics had disappeared, leaving me unable to do simple arithmetic, So, now I work as a health aid at an assisted living facility. I’m not asking for sympathy. I just want to share something that has been humming around in my head for two decades. Although I can no longer work at the heart of Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics, I still have images of a deeper reality inside me. But I can’t tell if they are real or ghosts haunting me from a past for which I no longer have a key.”
I could tell that the others were interested, perhaps relieved that I wasn’t divulging anything too personal in areas where sharing carries the threat of unwanted elaboration. I was simply sharing that my life had drastically changed twenty years ago, and that was not at all threatening. But, when I mentioned, encouraged by their attention, that at the age of eighteen, I had discovered a new subatomic particle at the frontiers of scientific knowledge, I saw doubt appear in several faces. I was ready to abandon my impulse to share my past, when I noticed that Peter was looking at me with great intensity; and I realized that I needed to continue for him, and I hoped for my sake too. Visualizing the diplomas and awards adorning the walls of my parents’ house, I continued.
“As we now know through the findings of Particle Physics, Quantum Theory, and Relativity Theory, nothing can be observed with certainty. What we think of as physical reality is in fact a network of tendencies and probabilities. You need mathematics to even represent those intertwined relationships, which western science has demonstrated constitute the most basic level of physical reality. But Eastern mysticism, which we’ve been studying in Larry’s class on Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism, provides another doorway into this understanding.”
I mentioned our minister’s class, in the hope that this would keep a few of the others interested. But I needed no contrivance to keep Peter’s interest. He was looking at me with intense concentration. Keeping my eyes on his (the others could follow along or not as they wished), I continued to reach back into my past, while fully anchored in the present moment.
While I was talking, I realized that when something is absent, such as a mental ability, confidence, or a lost person, we can always look at what is still present. Then we’ll find ourselves in a world that is not withholding what we really need most. Then we can be grateful for what is appearing in our present life and for all the opportunities we are being given to learn and discover new parts of ourselves. We may feel regret, remorse, or an oppressive atmosphere that seems to be denying us what we want and need; we may feel that something or someone has been irrevocably lost; but if we look carefully, we will realize that we are at the center of a unique life that has never before appeared in this world exactly in the way we are present now.
Then, looking at Peter and remaining silent for a few moments, I said, realizing it for the first time myself, “If we feel that we lack love in our lives, perhaps we can discover, in its very absence, that love is lapping against the shoreline of our deepest being.”