A few months ago I reviewed Have Dog, Will Travel, poet Stephen Kuusisto’s memoir about his relationship with his beloved first guide dog and journey of embracing his blindness. In “Quiet Works,” a recent article I wrote for The Banner, I reflect on a very powerful moment in the book: Kuusisto’s experience of taking the Eucharist as a teenager.
For years, Kuusisto didn’t talk about this moment to anyone. His response led me to ponder the choices we all have related to publicly sharing experiences or quietly holding them to ourselves—for a time or, in some cases, perhaps even forever. You can read an excerpt from my piece below.
(As I write this post, I’m on parental leave and preparing for the birth of our first child–and I suspect this new chapter will provide new opportunities to, as I write in my piece, “trust in how the quiet works.”)
Late in the book, Kuusisto recalls wandering into a random church at 17 years old. His young soul is a complex knot of shame, loneliness, and fear. He is battling depression, and his body is dangerously wasting away because of an eating disorder. When the Eucharist is served—a sacrament “of which he knew nothing”—he kneels to partake of the bread and the wine among strangers. As he does so, he feels “his own flesh and blood kissed from somewhere deep and still.”
This is a mystifying and profoundly moving moment for Kuusisto—one that renews his resolve to live. And yet, he notes that he “never mentioned the experience to anyone.” Eventually, of course, he described it in his book, but for decades he kept it to himself.
Kuusisto does not explain exactly why he kept silent all those years—he leaves room for mystery. I do not read his response as motivated by fear or shame, however. The more I reflect on it, the more I appreciate it.
Perhaps I find Kuusisto’s response refreshing because I am reading it within the context of our culture, which gives us more opportunities than ever to instantly broadcast everyday happenings. These days, for example, many of us use social media to rush curated expressions of our life into public space. We can equate visibility with significance.
To be sure, there is empathetic power to sharing our occasions of joy, sorrow, and everything in between, with each other. The act of storytelling can bring the imagery of communion to mind—a kind of passing of the “elements” of our existence among fellow members of the body. Is it selfish, then, to keep a moment to oneself?