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The wounded who heal broken hearts

By 
  • September 15, 2022

At lunchtime on a beautiful summer’s day many years ago, I walked downtown in the heart of Toronto. A makeshift stage had been set up, and a woman was singing one of my favourite songs from the world of musicals, “On My Own” from Les Miserables, about romantic rejection and hopelessness. But there was something wrong. It took me a little while to figure out what the problem was, but gradually it dawned on me. She had no passion! Technically, she hit every note perfectly, yet it was as though she had never felt the pain of loneliness. There was no conviction that she had ever in her lifetime experienced being on her own, deserted, and heartbroken.

The great composer Elgar once heard a young girl play the violin technically perfect, but without expression or feeling, and he is reputed to have commented, “One day her heart will be broken, and she will be a great musician.”

We can ponder the mysteries of the universe and ask ourselves why God allows so much sorrow into the lives of apparently innocent victims of circumstances. Ultimately, all answers fail, and we are left to live the mystery and decide what we do with the loneliness and pain. Fr. Henri Nouwen suggests we can listen compassionately and be wounded healers: people who use their loneliness to reach out to the lonely.

I was recently joined on my street walking by one such soul, Tracey, a veteran of over 14 years on the street who has been clean for 16 years. She joins me every so often to revisit her old haunts, and keep me company as I walk late into the evening.

Over the years she has seen more than her fair share of loneliness and pain. She would admit she was not always an innocent victim. Mingled with that there was much sorry in the death of a handicapped child, rejection by family and abuse by companions on the street.

She has confronted her addictions and has emerged a wounded healer who can offer her own wounded heart to others. We walked together into the midst of the usual darkness of the streets, and it was not long before we heard a voice shout, “Hey Tracey, what are you doing back downtown?”

She shouted back, “Winston, don’t tell me you are still out here. Don’t you ever get the message?” Soon they were deep in conversation about her friend’s life, and the pain she felt seeing him still using after all these years.

“Let me know if I can help,” were her parting words. Soon after, Tracey called another lady by name who was standing on a corner with her dog on a leash. A litany of abuse and anxiety was recited, as Tracey listened patiently to her fear of returning to the apartment before offering words of support and understanding.

Tracey met at least eight people that evening. With each, she listened to their hurts and encouraged them to find the strength to break free. After, she would tell me about the hurts each experienced, and how it reminded her of her own hurts. 

We were heading home late in the evening, when across the road we saw a man sitting on the sidewalk and pushing himself slowly and painfully along the ground. “Holy ****” she said, and darted across the road through the traffic. Kneeling on the ground beside him, she asked if he was making his way to the shelter close by. She told me to stay with him, and then ran into the shelter to get staff out to help, shouting at them to be careful as they lifted him roughly to his feet.

“I’m going in with you to make sure he is safe in there,” she added.

I stood there amazed at this young lady who was willing to take on authority and power on behalf of those who reminded her of what she once was, and I wondered what I would have done if I were alone.

Tracey is a wounded healer, who allows her wounds of rejection and heartbreak to be touched by the poor. She understands that all divisions in life are Gospel issues, and if we listen to people who are different from us with a compassionate heart, then we will find that we have much in common.

(Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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