“Stand up”, he said, “Do not be afraid.”
There’s a question I always love to ask my homeless patients. Usually I try to sneak it in near the end of a consultation when they’re not really expecting it. And when they have to respond quite quickly without having too much of a chance to think about it. And it is this: “when did you like yourself the most?”
And pretty much always, it makes them stop and think and not really want to answer.
Because generally by the time people get to meet the homeless GP, they’re not feeling very good about themselves. It’s generally been a while since anything worked out, since anything went right. And they find it hard to think about any good times in their lives. But I always try to push them for an answer, whatever it is. Partly because it’s always good to know what people are like at their best – it helps to know what you can really hope to achieve with a person. What are reasonable goals to set? Partly because I think it’s always good for any human being to be in touch with whatever is or has been the peak moment in their life – the moment when they saw it all and they saw it clear. Because when the world gets dark and dismal and all Good Friday-ish – as it will in about six weeks, it is really important to have that to hold onto. Because the best protection against despair – against the black, empty meaningless nothing of Good Friday – Death on a Cross – is remembering back to the good times and remembering that they actually happened – they were real – they were solid. And if they happened once, they can happen again.
So I’m going to ask you, some time this week, to spend twenty whole minutes on your best time. Somewhere quiet, somewhere on your own – not easy in this place I know, but do your best. And do it like Saint Ignatius would do it – go back to that time, remember all that happened, all that you saw, all that you heard, all that you felt, all that you loved.
And then find in your mind and heart a symbol, a word, a phrase, a poem, a piece of music – whatever it is for you. And find some way in which you can make that a permanent reminder - an anamnesis. That is a Greek word for which there is no real word in English, but which means something you want to remember always; something you want to carry with you forever.
I have a friend who has the names of her two children tattooed just on the inside of her left wrist. And I asked her why – not why she had the names tattooed – I understand that - but why there? And she said, because that’s where she wears her watch. I didn’t understand, so she explained. It is because she doesn’t enjoy her job. And often she looks at her watch to see how long it is before she can go home. But then as she is looking at her watch, she turns her wrist over and remembers why she came to work in the first place.
So I would ask of you today: “when did you like yourself the most?” Who are you at your best? And what would you tattoo of your best experience on your heart, your mind or your left wrist for everlasting remembrance for when the bad times come – as they will.
When did you like yourself the most?”
Paul O'Reilly SJ