It was years ago when I was sitting in a room with a group of people who were engaged in an inquiry about authenticity, that one man got up and began to tell the story of how he had done something so heinous to another person that we would usually shrink back or lock one up behind bars for such a confession. He was ashamed, and frightened to be so exposed in front of so many, but this thing was not going to let him go until he cleaned it up and left it behind. He wasn't making any justifications or excuses, he was seeing and understanding the harm he had done and he was completely broken over it.
I wasn't shrinking back, I was leaning forward. I wasn't locating evil over there with him, I was seeing my own humanity in his eyes and I was filled with compassion. He went on to tell about how he had called the woman he had hurt, so long ago, and how she forgave him. I watched the forgiveness undo and then mend his soul, right before my eyes.
I had been frightened, too, when he began to speak--I always was when anyone pulled back the curtain on their true selves, because I thought that some cruel abandonment was surely looming. But I learned that day that I, too, could be brave. That I might tell it the way it really is and magically find the room filled with love and not judgment.
I forgot that story, until yesterday when Phyllis told me another one like it. She told me about a mentor who would point out this phenomenon in one of her groups. When authenticity broke through like a ray of light through the clouds, he would say to them, "Look at this face. Have you ever seen such beauty?" He would do this with men and women alike, and he challenged them all: dare to be beautiful. When we pull back the curtain, when authenticity breaks through, we are stunned by the beauty of the human soul. It's sacred. It's holy.
Phyllis and I talked about this kind of love for a long time. It's distinctive from friendship because it doesn't really require a past or all the other kinds of knowing that friendship entails. It's a kind of love that stirs you, wakes you up inside. A kind that makes you want to reach out and take someone's hand or fold them into your arms or just look into their eyes in a way that says, I see you. I know. Or, amen.
Classic movies like When Harry Met Sally have long occupied themselves with that old tennis match: friends or lovers? Friends or lovers? But I was so relieved when Phyllis told me these things. "Thank you," I said. "I just needed a category to put that in." And I knew I wasn't the only one.
This is an occupational hazard of doing authenticity work, whether you're a storyteller or an artist or even the rare scholar. You can't help being wakened by the beauty of others' souls, or falling in love over and over again.
"It's really sad, isn't it," Phyllis replied, "that we don't have a category for I Love Your Guts." Yes, I said. It's time for that to change.