I’ve always been more comfortable living on the ‘margins’, an interloper, a social drifter. I’m one of those people who rejoice in giving presents, but cringe in abject discomfort when I have to open a gift in front of others. In a movie theater or crowded venue, I can’t bear to sit anywhere but in the aisle seat. My excitement of walking into a party or public event is quickly supplanted by my mind’s clicking into overdrive as it plans my furtive escape. If it’s a friend’s house party, I’m usually the one more comfortable quietly building Lego castles with the kids, or even better, directing all my attention to the dog or the cat. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t really mingle – I muddle.
I used to credit my social awkwardness, my physical aversion to crowds, to the fact that I am a recovering alcoholic. When you are no longer able to take advantage of the ‘social lubricant’ known as alcohol, it becomes increasingly more difficult to let your guard down in public. But it wasn’t until three years ago, that I was finally able to figure out why I’ve always felt so uncomfortable in my skin, an outsider in the crowd.
At the ripe-old age of 46, I had arrived at a crisis point, so I decided to bravely look back at my life as if through the wrong end of a telescope – I started with the broad focus of where I was at that moment: an elite endurance athlete, a recovering addict clean and sober for 15 years, someone who had clawed his way out of the darkness of depression and a recurring anxiety disorder, yet the further I went back into my past, the more laser-focused that image became, until it I eventually arrived at the memories of the childhood sexual abuse that had been a specter in everything I’d done, and in everything I’d become. As is the case with most survivors of childhood trauma, I sought comfort in the margins of society because in the subtle act of ‘disappearing’, I was able to numb the discomfort and shame that shivered inside of me.
It has taken me almost my entire lifetime to realize that what I thought was the “worst of me”, was in fact the “best of me”. And all those years I spent escaping to the margins of society have been a beautiful blessing in disguise. I believe that grace is found in the most unlikely of places, and is carried within the hearts of the most unlikely of ‘heroes’. There is no denying the many threats we face in this world, be it injustice, political instability, or environmental catastrophe, but to my mind, the most haunting danger of all is the fact that we have become so busy and self-distracted, that we are often are immune to, or at the very least, neglect to see the ‘grace’ that lies around us and within us.
Instead of looking to be inspired by rainbows and demigods, I need to be reminded that grace and beauty are just as likely to emanate from the darkness of loss or within the quiet of the unadorned. In the words of Thomas Merton: “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons… With those for whom there is no room.”
And so, this is where I am today – reaching out to those for “whom there is no room”, and all the while quietly feeling an affinity with the whispers of grace found in the most unlikely of places.