I remember a moment when I felt totally ‘wrecked’. My heart broken, my thoughts dark, my body heavy, my mind numb.
Those are the moments, writes Jeff Goins in Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life, that should break your heart because, “a broken heart isn’t enough of a deterrent from doing the right thing, even when it tears your life apart” he writes.
I’ve had many of those ‘wrecked’ moments in my life. Those moments where fear wasn’t the enemy as much as inaction could have been, and at times was. It is in those moments, writes Goins, that we need to ‘lean into the things that hold us back, to move through the pain and push forward’.
Two and a half years ago a man passed away at the shelter where I worked. At the time, he gave me permission to share his story and I was blessed. In his story, my heart was touched and I was wrecked. Through his story, people woke up to the human face behind homelessness. They woke up to the beauty, and the darkness, of life on and off the streets.
When Terry Pettigrew passed away, he gained national attention. Not something he would likely have received in life. He was just a guy. A wiry man of 58 who had lived a transient life since he was 8 years old and his father booted him out of the house for some transgression. How a little boy could do anything that warranted being sent to the streets at the age of 8 defies my logic, and for Terry, it defied his capacity to trust and connect to his fellow human beings.
Terry’s life was not remarkable. He drove cattle across the country. He worked the rigs. He worked on ranches. He did things he wasn’t proud of and like all of us, hurt people he never meant to hurt. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry” very often. Didn’t often say, I love you, either. He was a man of few words and those he did share were usually laced with witty humour to deflect eyes from seeing into his heart.
Terry was not the first man to pass away at the shelter in whose passing I was wrecked.
The first man was a man of even fewer words than Terry. James Bannerman had lived at the shelter for many years. I often met him along the river pathway as I walked to work and he set out for the day. We’d stop and chat and he would show me his bag full of bottles and cans he’d picked up along the river trail. “I’m doing my civic duty,” he’d say. “Keeping the paths clean.” James was also a photographer. He’d come to photography late in life. At the shelter. I’d given him a disposable camera one day as part of a project that invited clients of the shelter to take pictures of their world. With that camera James was hooked and we connected through our shared passion for the arts.
James passed away on December 8, 2009. I was holding his hand as he took his last inhale of breath. I was holding his hand waiting for the next exhalation that never came. I didn’t want to let go. I waited. One minute. Two. Finally, I could hold my breath no longer. He didn’t exhale. I called the nurse at the hospice where James had been taken earlier that day to live out his final hours, and she pronounced him dead.
I was wrecked.
It is an important place to be, this place of being ‘wrecked’. It is a place of vulnerability, openness and possibility. It is a place where we can choose to take action, or not.
According to Goin, it is a place of sacrifice, of letting go of our comfort zones to move into that place where we know, we make a difference when we commit to doing the thing that scares us, or intimidates us, or makes us feel uncomfortable because we are so far beyond the edge of the life we know, our life will never be the same again.
Working at a shelter made my life, and me, different.
Working at a shelter reminded me, every day, that it isn’t just some stranger suffering, it’s one of us. One of my fellow human beings.
When one of us falls on the street, we all fall on the street.
Reading Wrecked, I am awakening to an idea that was born on Terry’s story. It is an idea I’ve decided I must put bones around because not taking action would mean I am ignoring that place where I was wrecked and laid open to the power I have to make a difference.
I’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead. As this year draws closer to its end, this idea is awakening to carry me forward into action.
Jeff Goin shares a story about ‘Wrecked’ on the Youtube video below. He’s not very old but he sure does get the message — we are all connected.