The Stranger I Kept Avoiding

For most of my life, my identity has depended on an endless collection of things to prop it up: my name, my “biography”, my partners, home, job, bank balance… It was on their fragile and temporary support that I relied for my security. So then when I went to prison and was stripped of everything, I didn’t have any idea what my identity could be.

Without the familiar props, I was focused on just myself, a person I did not know, an unnerving stranger with whom I had been living all the time, but never really wanted to meet. I had filled my days with countless distractions and activities to ensure that I would not be left in silence with this stranger.

Finally, I met this stranger in a prison cell. No longer could I use my computer, my TV, and every gadget and activity I could think of to divert my attention. All that was left for me to do was face myself.

At long last, layer after layer of resistances and denials were peeled away, and what was left was a tenderness I had not known before. When my core was finally reached, everything was felt in a new and deeper way.

I learned that seeing one’s own unwanted behaviors and claiming them, declaring them, and owning them is a first step that many never take. It’s too painful. When we share our painful experiences, though, others see themselves there as well. And they, too, will move closer to healing. When we lay our life open and allow our flaws and frailties to be known, our magnificence shines through, too, and through our example, others are healed. Through the sharing of our pain, others are relieved of theirs. Through our experience, others have hope.

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