“Strive to learn before you die, from what you run, and to, and why.” Unsplash

Robert Kinghorn: It’s all about the ‘to’ and ‘why’

  • February 1, 2020

I was driving to Nova Scotia with my wife Ria several years ago when we stopped at a garden centre. Since I cannot tell a weed from a wallflower, I hung out in the knickknack section where people can find garden signs that say things like, “I don’t remember planting this.”

There were also fridge magnets that contain wit and wisdom. One had a saying attributed to James Thurber: “Strive to learn before you die, from what you run, and to, and why.”

This is a challenge for all of us on our spiritual journey, but it has heightened meaning as I encounter people running from deep scars of childhood and into the arms of lifestyles that promise joy but often end in despair. For these people, hope often comes through someone who believes in them and who can reawaken their inherent nobility. 

Justine was a resident of a shelter but had never been involved in drugs. I met her on the street wandering aimlessly. Her middle-aged face brightened a little as I said “Hello” and her soft and hesitant speech made me crane my head to hear the whisper of her voice. 

It soon became clear what Justine was running from. Artistic and deeply in love with music and nature, she had worked for a radio station for many years until both her parents died in a car accident. Justine withdrew into introversion and poverty, and yet she still talked of God looking after her. 

She said to me one time, “When I want to meet God, I just go into the hothouses of Allan Gardens, and there among the beautiful flowers I know God is with me.” 

Another time, the God she was running to spoke to her heart as she looked in a shop window. 

“There were all sorts of beautiful items,” she said. “The ones on the top shelf were way too expensive for me, but on the bottom shelf were ones that I could afford. I just thought to myself that this is what life is like — there are things that I cannot have in life and things that I can, and I am content that God gives me the things that I need.” 

Justine had figured out the “from” and the “to” of the James Thurber saying, and she seemed to have a nascent grasp of the “why” as well.

Debra’s world was as far removed from Justine’s as could be imagined. Frequenting the streets of the “trans” community she was self-assured, vocal and looking for clients. She talked of a “confused sexuality” in her early life that she was no longer running from, and now she wanted to be baptized. She gave me her address and phone number and I arranged to meet with her to follow up. 

However, she was in and out of hospital for a while after that meeting and finally I wrote her a letter asking her to call me. 

Many weeks later three women were approaching on the other side of the road and one of them shouted, “Hi Deacon Robert.” I acknowledged her with a wave, and I shouted, “Have any of you seen Debra recently?” She said, “That’s me. I got your letter. Thank you.” 

I apologized for not recognizing her and told her I would meet up with her later. Next time we met on the street she excitedly told me she had started college and hoped to graduate and work in the drug addiction field. 

As we were talking, a car stopped and stared at us and I moved away to let them talk, but I heard Debra say angrily, “Have you never seen a ‘tran’ before?” 

After the car left, I hugged her and said, “Don’t worry, some of us love you.” 

Years later we met by chance in another part of the city. She told me she was clean, off the street and about to finish her social work degree, but the desire for baptism had evaporated. Debra was another woman who had much to run “from” and a vision of what she was running “to” but she was not quite ready to accept baptism and perhaps get a glimpse of the “why.”

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)

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