Nouwen bookends this chapter by relating his disappointment when a friend of his from New York visited France and neglected to stop by and see him. This resonated deeply with me, but since the most relatable parts are in the final entry, I’ll save that discussion for the end of this post.
One entry in this chapter is entirely about iconography. I do not understand this, nor do I honestly wish to. Dr. W introduced our class to this concept and it felt quite as useless then as it does now.
His discussion of how the attendants cared for their charges was of more interest to me. I wondered, specifically, how a home where care was given in near silence was preferable to one with banter and chatter, cheerful voices ringing through the halls. It sounded almost depressing. I suppose that some silence is a good thing, and to be honest I believe that much of the chatter between caregivers can end up in gossip, but I still shirk from the idea of giving care in complete silence. If someone was caring for me, a few gentle and loving words would go a long way towards making me feel comfortable and at home. There is something to be said, however, for caregivers who can draw strength to do their work from silence and not commiseration. I am grateful, though, that some of my residents can talk, as the lady who said, “Howdy. I like you. You’re purdy.” when I came in this morning made my day better.
I would like to visit L’Oratoire. The imagery of prayers saturating the room, sitting silently allowing them to pray for you, is strangely comforting, given my disillusionment and cynicism about spiritual things. For some reason, I feel like being in a place like that would go a long way towards making one feel that faith is indeed real. Nouwen also writes about the apparent uselessness of prayer. I disagree with him that the first purpose is to be faithful. However, I do believe that the discipline and structure of spending time alone in silence at the beginning of the day is a practice worth developing.
Finally, back to Nouwen’s experience of rejection when his friend was too busy to stop in Trosly. He writes about how he gradually started to let go of the resentment, only to realize he was covering it up with busyness when his friend phoned him to ask about coming later. The depression, as he described it, barely subsided until he got the call from his friend–after which, he writes, “I felt new peace entering into my innermost self and sensed that my depression was slowly dissolving.” He laments that he is in so little control of his emotions that news like this has the ability to swing his internal barometer.
This experience is one I can completely relate to. In fact, I’ve lamented this tendency of mine–to go up and down with the events of my day in a seemingly uncontrolled roller coaster ride–time and again. I do not know how to completely control it, although I know part of the key lies in developing an internal sense of control instead of relying on my happiness and affirmation to come from others. It is an especially applicable lesson for me to learn today, as I spend several weeks at home. Living in this environment can mash my soul into the ground within hours, and if I do not rely on my value, worth, and truth to come from inside of me and what I know is valuable, worthy, and true, I will quickly become confused and lost, and depression will follow soon after. Nouwen says that “often [he has] to just let [emotions] pass through [him] and hope that they won’t hang around too long.” This seems to be the epitome of a life that is less ruled by emotions than mine–the ability to acknowledge them, trust that they will pass, and accept them and their departure quietly and peacefully. It’s a skill I need to cultivate, because “the deepest pains are always hidden in the smallest corners,” and I know there will always be small corners and cracks in my soul.