Friday, January 10, 2014

Beneath the Surface

"Inner Beauty"
-Flowers on a Desert Bramble Bush-

Yesterday as I drove my car, I was half-listening to the news on the radio when one story really caught my interest. The governor of Vermont spent his entire "State of the State" address focusing on a "crisis that is sweeping through the State of Vermont." 

At first I wondered what this sweeping crisis might possibly be- my first thought was that perhaps there was some sort of infestation of the maple trees.  After all, Vermont is known for its maple syrup. 

But the crisis the governor was talking about wasn't maple trees - it was "heroin addiction." 

Yes, a looming crisis of "heroin addiction" is ravaging the entire State of Vermont, of all places. When I think of drug addiction, I imagine grimy tenement buildings in Chicago or back alleys in New York - but Vermont?

Vermont, after all is a place of dairy farms and maple trees. It's a place where people eat lots of granola and shop at health food stores and ski the slopes of majestic mountains.  

So I was pretty much dumbfounded to hear that over the past ten years heroin addiction has increased by almost 800% in that state- affecting people of all ages and all socio-economic classifications.  It truly is a growing health crisis of epic proportion, not only in Vermont but in many other states in the nation as well- states in which you would least expect this kind of serious social issue to be so out of control. 

When I came back home yesterday, I saw an online picture that had been posted after the governor's address- a group of Vermont farmers turned into "junkies" huddled in a barn "shooting up"  and looking dazed.  It was one of the most disturbing images I have seen in a long time.

So what's this all about? That's the question I have been asking and reflecting on ever since I heard about that heroin crisis in Vermont- what's this all about?

In my many years as a parish priest I have talked with hundreds, maybe thousands of people who at one time or another made their way to my office to "confess" what they thought to be some horrible flaw or terrible sin. I heard stories about infidelity, addiction, lust, anger, theft, deceit, doubt, depression - you name it, I heard it.

The thing is that never once was I ever surprised, let alone was I ever shocked by anything I had ever heard- in fact, at one time or another I had heard it all before. In fact, many times the stories I heard and the sins confessed were my stories and my sins. 

The psychologist, Carl Rogers once touched upon a great wisdom when he said:

That which is most personal is most general

When we begin to scrape beneath the veneer of our self-projected surface images, we find that, to some extent each and every one of us is weighed down in the muck and mud of life. Our deepest, darkest secrets and carefully hidden sins are the shared stories of each of our lives. 

I wonder if the heroin addiction in Vermont is symptomatic of how difficult it is for people to face those dark places in their life, and so they have to hide away from it all. 

More than ever, the culture today expects "perfection" - beautiful people with beautiful bodies -perfect jobs, perfect families and perfect children who get perfect grades in school and excel in sports.  

So when people don't meet up to those perfect standards (and none of us ever do), they feel a need to hide it all- hide the imperfections from others and even from themselves.  So they inject a dangerous and highly addictive drug into their bodies so that they can remain within a haze of protection- keeping those deepest, darkest secrets buried deep within. 

I think that maybe this is why heroin addiction looms as a crisis nowadays, even among people who live in a "perfect" state like Vermont. 

The desert where I live is dotted with all sorts of bristly ugly shrubs, cacti and bushes - thorny and spiky, all dried up in the rocky desert soil. But every year right around this time, I notice that little tiny buds are beginning to form on these thorny shrubs and plants - from deep within, flowers are about to spring up into a glorious array of brilliant colors.  

When we scrape beneath the surface of life, we find that we all share the secrets of a common brokenness  -and yes, it can get pretty ugly at times. But when we scrape beneath the surface, we also find that we, fragile creatures, are also exquisitely beautiful - filled with love, gentleness and tenderness. 

We don't need to hide behind walls to carefully guard our deep dark secrets of our human imperfection. 

We all have the same secrets. 

We are broken and we are beautiful.

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