Not one person in this world has been able to escape the clutches of being hurt in life. I never really understood the truth of that statement until I spent two years sojourning from state to state. It was in my time of tribulation and witnessing a see a sea of humanity hobbled by misfortune that I understood the commonality of our pains. What prevented me from being permanently mangled by hopelessness and sunk by indigence was the realization that—despite the adversities that come in our lives—we are not victims to our circumstances. We have no control over the injuries this world might visit upon us, but we do have a choice in how we react and rise from the ashes of distress.
I write this article in reflection of an upcoming transition in my life, one that is leading me to abundance and away from seasons of privation. I have matured a lot in these past couple of years—hardship has a way of conferring wisdom in our minds. Yet my travel to prudence is far from complete; I have taken but a few steps on a thousand mile journey to sagacity. Old habits die hard, no matter how much I pray and yearn to be more forbearing and humble when I’m met with the malice of others, my initial reaction is to give back ten fold as I have been given.
I do so knowing that it’s pure folly to sink to the level of other people’s brokenness. Most of us want change and desperately want love to rule the day, yet our individual choices have a way of negating our collective hopes. Responding to hate with animus bears no fruit to the giver nor does it reward the receiver with their comeuppance. People revert to hate because of their brokenness, thus resorting to their antagonism by lowering ourselves to their level gives them joys. I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum in my life so I write this next sentence from experience.
The more light people have in their souls, the more that light attracts the darkness of people who have malice in their hearts. We have to rise above hate with love.
It’s one thing to know, it’s another thing to understand. Even though I know that people only react with pettiness because of their inner brokenness and even though I know that it’s my own brokenness that makes me react with petulance to people’s small mindedness, I keep reverting back to the very habits that have led me astray in the past. As much as I can affix blame outward and point fingers to explain my nearly three year dalliance with destitution, I can lay equal blame for my plight at my vindictiveness. Try hard as we may to seek rewards through retribution, there is not one iota of profit to be found in vengeance.
I was watching Amelia’s Closet earlier this morning, a movie about a little girl who was getting harassed and teased by her peers in school. In one of the most moving parts of the movie, Amelia’s Father told her to not sink down to the level of the kids who kept antagonizing her. “People will treat you like the person that they think you are until you prove them right.” These words jumped out at me, if we can’t be kind to people who are hateful out of forbearance, let us at least be kind out of discernment. Reducing our joys to odium ensures their victory and our loss; do not fall for the trap set for you by those who want to invert your happiness to bitterness.
When I was in the midst of homelessness and living a life of a nomad in South Carolina not too long ago, I ran across a roving reverend named Fred at Port City Java. Over a cup of coffee, Reverend Fred and I started discussing faith and debating the bible. From that day on, every Thursday morning became my spiritual session with roving Rev. Frank. I found comfort not in his sermons but in his actions; despite my circumstances, he treated me like his son. If only more people were like Reverend Frank and made it their focus to preach less and let their practice be led with kindness, we might have a modicum of peace on earth.
One particular Thursday, I started to tell Reverend Fred about my story and the way I ended up in the Greenville Rescue Mission. Instead of debating the bible that day, I told him how Psalms was my solace and how I identified with the struggles that David faced. He did not interject to prove a point, he just listened. He knew that the best way to help people is to hear their voice instead of trying to heal them through our egos. He then gave me a hug and told me with firm faith that my struggle will one day be a testimony of the redemptive power of love.
As moved as I was by his gesture and his prayer for my life, what stuck with me the most is what he said as we were parting company. As we were walking out of the coffee shop, he smiled at me and said:
“You know, the enemies that David kept praying to be vanquished were inside, David was his own worst enemy in ways that exceeded the malevolence of Saul”.
To this day, I keep revisiting that conversation because what Reverend Fred said was so poignant and true. No matter how much Saul was tormenting him and no matter how much David felt persecuted by his adversaries, it was the smallness of David that got in the way of his greatness. The same ego that enabled him to slay Goliath led David astray; his flesh became his crucible time and again throughout his life.
What consumed King David and prevented him from building the temple he wanted to construct is the same virus of ego that consumes all of us. Our need to be proven right, our yearning to validated and our desire to be accepted by others is the root cause of the fire that is engulfing our planet. Global warming takes second fiddle compared to the ways we keep torching each other with enmity. This inferno keeps getting hotter with each successive year as we let our difference fan the flames of animosity and get in the way of our common bonds.
If we only take the time to listen to each other instead of talking past each other. Yesterday was my last day at Stone’s Cove KitBar, a most unique restaurant in Herndon, Virginia. It was on this occasion of goodbye that I had a long conversation with someone I’ve been working with for three months. When I told Terrell that I have been amazed by his work ethic and the way he is always going a hundred miles and hour, he smiled and noted that was the Marine in him that always drives him to go the extra mile.
All this time working with Terrell and yet I never knew he was a leatherneck. I thanked him profusely for his service and sacrifice and told him that I too would have joined the military had my youthful indiscretions not closed my path to West Point. I told Terrell my story and he told me his, in the process I realized yet again that we are all interconnected by something greater than our present circumstances. If you want to know the source of my pen and how I’m inspired to write, it’s because I keep running into amazing people like Reverend Fred and Terrell who infuse my heart with hope and imbue my soul with faith in a better tomorrow.
My journey moves on, the purpose I found elusive as a high priced consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton I was able to discover during my dance with distress. After finding shelter in missions and cooking as a chef for a year at Harvest Farm in Wellington Colorado only to find myself back in Virginia serving people as cheftender at Stone’s Cove, I now embark on a new leg of my life. The same way I’ve been writing of hope during my time of barrenness, may God grant me the wisdom to speak with humility during my season of abundance.
Here is what I have learned through it all. Pain is a universal condition of mankind—we can either invert pain or revert to pain. We live in a time where more and more people are reverting to pain. Yet the more we do this, the more we pass on the same pains that are passed on to us to others, the more we keep suffering for it. The only way to overcome injustice and mend what ails our planet is by inverting pain and giving back kindness in the same places we are met with hostility. This is my prayer for us all; be kind and rise above malice with love. #AboveWithLove
“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Teodrose Fikre is the editor and founder of the Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two-year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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