‘This’ is a word lost to a society drowning in the wash of ‘that’. ‘That’ is the place of conjecture, of debate, opinion. Divorce, addiction, dysfunction are words we give to that problem. We tackle ‘that’ in our heads. We dig up statistics, we speak about humans as writ large, a mass known as society. We study sociology and examine trends. It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. We can tut tut every tragedy as that problem, that issue.
Today, with another tragic death of a ‘public figure’ (see the ‘thatness’ of that phrase?) blasted through our collective consciousness, ‘that’ problem of fathers not connecting with their sons will be discussed ad nauseum. Systemic fault lines will be critically examined. Experts will discuss and write and heads will shake and we will all shuffle on to another episode of reality TV. That couple fought about that renovation. Dear me. He’s such a so and so….
I called a friend this morning. He wisely noted that this is a time to grieve. For this wife has lost this husband, this daughter has lost this father, and this son has to live with the impossible awareness that he has taken this father’s life. It is not that problem. Not ever, not for them, not for us.
Yesterday, I visited the drug and alcohol unit of the Royal Brisbane Hospital. I didn’t want to go, I had a busy day and it cost me at least $200 in lost income, and it meant I had to drive almost 180km around the city. Then I sat down and heard this heartache.
There was THIS man. He had checked himself into the hospital on his birthday, the day before. He’s got a young son and another on the way. Drugs have kept him from being there for this young family. Tears. Loss. Longing. Between him and I was a space, and that space was holy, and for the first time that day I was truly, fully present. He was this. I was this. This can only live in our hearts. We live this, we analyse that.
The 12th step of the 12 step program is to give back. The fruit of initiated men is they give back. Not to society, but to this man, this woman, this son or daughter, this friend. Yet 90 percent of people get distracted by that thing, they forget all their lives are hidden in ‘thisness.’
Last night at my men’s group, a dear friend shared of his love for his significantly disabled daughter. He mused at how his employer makes a song and dance about uniform code for students, meanwhile his darling daughter has needs the education system doesn’t even begin to fathom. How maddeningly insane it is to build a universe about wearing hats to make good impressions alongside the compelling needs of a daughter who will never comprehend why a uniform code exists in the first place. Good on her I say!
That. Uniform codes. This. My daughter. Do you see? You cannot see unless you actually see, eyeball another soul. Face to face. There is no salvation without incarnation, and there is no incarnation unless we show up. We used to talk about “God showing up” at meetings, which was code for “we got goosebumps.” God shows up when we show up.
Yes, we can get overwhelmed by need. I recall standing on a hill overlooking a poverty-stricken village in the Philippines decades ago. Tin and dirt as far as the eye could see, misery and poverty. I heard a voice: “look again.” I noticed children playing with a stick, women talking over a fence, men having a yarn on a toppling veranda. Then I saw it. This was people engaging with this friend, this neighbour, this spouse. Poverty? Had I stood on a hill in Brisbane, I would’ve seen hundreds of people staring at ‘that’ lifeless device.
There is a story that on the surface is a vanilla, heard-it-all-before generic miracle. It’s the first time a follower of Jesus sees God heal. It’s a disabled man at the temple in Jerusalem. The author makes it very clear what happened before anything happened:
Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention…” (Acts 3:4-5). Gaze. Connection. Seeing. This man. These men. Now. Here. Immediate. Present. Loving. Caring.
The miracle is simply the outflow of the ‘thisness’ of the encounter. But there’s something else about this story. Jesus would have walked past this man countless times. Without connecting, seeing, healing. It’s clear from the passage – this man was placed there at the temple every day.
I won’t see every need. I could get overwhelmed. I’m not meant to. Strangely, nor was Jesus. But if like him I do I see this person, I can enter life. Or do I busy myself with that issue?
Thisness actually has a term. It’s called Haecceity. It was termed by Duns Scotus, the great middle ages philosopher. He opined that this thing cannot be reduced to its parts, comprehended for its properties, it must be met, seen, in an immediate and unobjectified manner. Centuries later, Martin Buber developed this understanding by recognising the ‘thouness” of whatever and whomever we encounter. if we do not see the Thou, we make ourselves poor. All living is meeting.
Do you see? Do you step into pain, your own, others? Is the conflict you are having that person’s attitude? Is it that wife, that son or daughter, that boss, friend? Unless and until it becomes this, yours, there can only be strategies, tactics, defences, reactions. But if it is this wife, son, daughter, boss, friend, it is yours. You are here. They can be here. Life can flow.