Fr. Greg Boyle and Bernie. Photo by Rami Efal

“Your past is like your ass—behind you.”

I read those words in Fr. Gregory Boyle’s recent book, The Whole Language, describing his experiences with homies, gang members in Los Angeles. It’s my first time reading a book on Kindle.

I met G, as they call him, some 4 years ago when Bernie and I visited his office in Homeboy Industries.

I’m particularly struck by Boyle’s insistence that every single person who comes through their doors is beloved by God regardless of what he’s done or what violence she’s perpetrated. He talks of unconditional love that God has for all humans regardless of our judgment of them, and Boyle’s desire to show the same to all the homies.

This is in firm opposition to the widespread perception of God as some critical, angry being whom we must fear, before whom we must tremble, and whose favor is conditioned on the kind of people we are.

Instead of going around in fear, as so many people do, fear of their inadequacies and shortcomings, fear that they’re not loved by God, we need to live happy and confident in God’s love for us. If we feel fear, this is what we’ll project onto everything and everyone else. If we feel love, we will project that onto the rest of the world.

Tenderness is the word he invokes most of all, the tenderness that lurks under the fear, the tenderness that comes with acceptance and self-acceptance.

I feel that in this trip I’ve been surrounded by acts of tenderness. Right now, 70 mph winds are blasting rain at our windows, but I sit by a gas stove under a wool blanket and Molly, my sister’s Alsatian Shepherd, leans her head against my chair.

My sister drives me in the middle of the storm towards Beit Jallah so that I could meet with Sami Awad, my Palestinian peace activist friend. The previous night she was warned by neighbors not to drive there, it’s the West Bank, too dangerous, etc. Instead, she drives me down a beautiful road ringed by climbing slopes of olive trees bending in the winds. She’s going to get me there regardless of fears and warnings. We share 30 minutes of tenderness between two sisters who don’t get to see each other very often.

Only Sami isn’t there and after waiting a while we head back home. “Eve,” he finally calls, “I was in a car accident in Bethlehem on the way to you.”

“What happened? Did you get hurt?”

He’s fine, car’s fine, and he’s just worried that he missed me and won’t see me again for a while. I pause, take it in. Sami just turned 50, I just turned 72, he could be my son. Anther surge of tenderness.

I think of Lori back home, taking care of dogs and house while I’m gone.

I recall the shopkeepers in the Old City. I went shopping down an alley usually filled with stores, but one side of the alley was empty because tourists can’t come in. Now is usually the time of Christmas pilgrims, a big source of revenue for shops in the Old City, but no one can come in due to fears around omicron. And one shopkeeper in particular, an old man limping badly as he shows me magnificent robes, jackets, and vests made by hand by Bedouins down south.

“The steps were wet,” he says, “and I fell hard on my knee.” But he insists on bringing us the best Turkish coffee I’ve drunk in years, limping up and down the steps of his shop.

For him, too, there’s tenderness.

Doing simple things with my sister: Picking up an electric heater for her room because of the cold, buying meds for my mother and treats for Molly, checking up on my brother-in-law and his bad cold. No theater, no music, nothing terribly exciting in this fascinating city, just small stations that dot our daily journeys, each filled with tenderness.

And of course, conversations with my mother:

“Mom, do you think you’ll get into paradise after you die?”

“It depends. I want to see a list of who’s there.”

“Why, mom?”

“I want to be with people who laugh,” she answers. And then says: “I’m glad you’re not too old, Chavale.”

“Why’s that, mom?”

“I don’t want you to get so old that we can’t talk together anymore,” she tells me, aged 93, with ongoing dementia.

We laugh aloud for a long time, but under the laughter, a wide seam of tenderness.

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