Gregory J. Boyle: Wish You Would Just Kill Yourself
Gregory J. Boyle – Change The World
Gregory J. Boyle is a social worker who gives a compassionate speech about one of his patients who was a victim of child abuse.
She said to me once, “I wish you would just kill yourself. You’re such a burden to me.” Well, 600 social workers audibly gasped and he says, “It sounds way worser in Spanish.” We went from gasp to laugh. Jose got up and he was 25 years, gang member, been to prison, felon, tattooed. He was in our 18-month program, but he was finishing up his time as a very valued member of our Substance Abuse Team, a man solid in his own recovery and now he was helping younger homeys with their addiction issues. He had spent a long stretch of time as a homeless man and even longer stretch as a heroin addict. A gentle, kind soul. He’s proof that only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance of changing the world.
Jose got up and said, “I guess you could say I was six years old and my Mom and I, we didn’t get along so good.” He said, “I think I was nine when my Mom drove me down to the deepest part of Baja, California. She walks me up to an orphanage and she knocks on the door. The guy comes to the door and she says, ‘I found this kid,’ and she left me there for 90 days, until my grandmother could get out of her where she had dumped me and my grandmother came and rescued me. My Mom beat me every single day of my elementary school years with things you could imagine, and a lot of things you couldn’t. Every day, my back was bloodied and scarred. In fact, I had to wear three T-shirts to school each day. First T-shirt, ’cause the blood would seep through and second T-shirt, you could still see it. Finally, the third T-shirt, you couldn’t see any blood. Kids at school, they’d make fun of me. ‘Hey fool, it’s 100 degrees. Why you wearing three T-shirts?'”
Then he stopped speaking, so overwhelmed with emotion and he seemed to be staring at a piece of his story that only he could see. When he could regain his speech, he said through his tears, “I wore three T-shirts well into my adult years because I was ashamed of my wounds. I didn’t want anybody to see ’em, but now I welcome my wounds. I run my fingers over my scars. My wounds are my friends. After all, how can I help heal the wounded, if I don’t welcome my own wounds?” An awe came upon everyone.
The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them. You have to brace yourselves because people will accuse you of wasting your time. When you stand with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless, you stand with those whose dignity has been denied. You stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear, and you will go from here and have this exquisite privilege once in a while to be able to stand with the easily despised and the readily left out, with the demonized, so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away …