Time does not always provide healing. For some, time can be the medium whereupon trauma arrogantly dances and sadly increases in volume. When trauma-terror strikes, darkness imposes, is gripping and salvation can seem lost. When terror strikes, being in a safe place with loving people can be salvation enough.
Jesus provided a safe place for people. Remember, amongst many other life-assuring and trustworthy things he said, ‘come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’1 Imagine the trauma, the terror, that Jesus witnessed in the world. There is a world behind our eyes, consider them as Shakespeare did, windows to the soul.2
The eyes of Dorothy Day, renown Catholic social activist, reveal that she was exposed to and transformed by trauma.
She was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1897 and her eyes, her affected gaze can be observed in her book, A Long Loneliness. Day, in an interview, refers to the book more as a memoir than an autobiography, focusing primarily on both the ‘slow workings of God in the soul of a most unlikely lover’ and the original inspiration of the Catholic Worker Movement.3 Following a brief Introduction and Confession, Day divides her book into three parts, their titles in sequential order: Searching, Natural Happiness and Love is the Measure.
Dorothy’s truest nature was love for God, she found glimpses of Him everywhere. Despite feeling distant from Him at times, becoming acquainted with darker places, she often fell into His embrace. Her honest, transparent writing made her vulnerable, giving way for her longing communion, hope for unity, with humanity. She articulates her inspiration like this, ‘whenever I felt the beauty of the world in song or story, in the material universe around me, or glimpsed it in human love, I wanted to cry out in joy and grief.’4 Dorothy was acutely aware of and attracted to explore the darker places of humanity as well.
Early in life, Dorothy had many and varied opportunities to learn about Jesus and tenets of the Christian faith. As she grew older, she developed a consuming love for books and authors who helped satisfy her appetite for the knowledge of good and evil. She admits that they may have been a source for her restlessness. ‘I am reading Dostoyevsky,’ she mentioned, ‘and last night I stayed up late and this morning I had to get up early and I feel my soul is like lead.’5 Her style of writing is inviting, disarming and conversational, as if an open discussion of connection and application between past and present. What she read, opened her to truth and broke her heart, as she measured truth to humanity.
The long loneliness, a concept of suffering. It is first mentioned by Dorothy with regards to a time that she was on her own and without a job in New York city. She writes that she felt it ‘descend’ on her, an oppressive ‘silence in the midst of the city noises’, that it was her ‘own silence, the feeling that (I) had no one to talk to’ that overwhelmed her.6 She describe it as being felt in her body, a trauma that constricted her throat and fell a heaviness of ‘un-uttered thoughts’ on her heart; she wanted to ‘weep (my) loneliness away.’7 Dorothy loved people and she loved justice. She cared deeply, passionately for the relief of those ‘held down’ because she experienced the pain of life deeply, their pain, this long loneliness.
Sociologist, author and esteemed Ted Talk lecturer, Brene Brown, relates loneliness to disconnection. In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene affirms that ‘at the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction – an intimate relationship, friendships, family gatherings, or even community or work group connections.’8 Brene also observes that a lack of a sense of true belonging and shame, that ‘there’s something wrong with us’9, may also conspire to breathe life into the being and miserable experience of loneliness. Dorothy Day was there, in this melancholy; however, she didn’t remain there in the gloom forever, the Lifter of her head was never far.10
My friend passed away on Thursday. He knew the long loneliness, his body was accustomed to the trauma of this foreign place yet, God preserved him long enough to catch a glimpse of Hope while he was with us. He has been absorbed into the ‘Home’ his soul has been longing for this whole time. We belong with God; so, we need not succumb to the idea of this place as something it is not. Be on the lookout for those in throes of loneliness way out there on the margins, they may be closer to you than you thought possible, maybe beside you, might even be you. I miss my friend so much, already. There’s a reminder for me, even in this desolate moment, to set my sights on Home. God gives us sweet little reminders of Home, here and there in the beauty of the minute and ever-expanding. I can see already that Dorothy Day was not only utterly present to the pain, willing to endure the long loneliness but, she was captivated by the Creator’s Artistry.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 1 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
- Matthew 11:28, New International Version.
- William Shakespeare, “King Richard III: Act V, Sc.3, Line 116-117,” PlayShakepseare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource, https://www.playshakespeare.com/richard-iii/scenes/act-v-scene-3.
- James Martin, S.J., “Dorothy Day and Abortion: A New Conversation Surfaces,” America: the Jesuit Review, July 1, 2011, https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/dorothy-day-and-abortion-new-conversation-surfaces.
- Dorothy Day, A Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1952), 29.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 34.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 51.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 51.
- Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (New York: Random House, 2019), 52.
- Brown, Braving the Wilderness, 54.
- The Maranatha! Singers. “A Shield About Me.” 2001 Integrity Music. January 1, 2001. Music Video, 4:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sseXFvL3aXk&list=RDsseXFvL3aXk&index=1.