Dr. Donna Chacko lived in Kairos and worked as a family doctor at Christ House as part of the residential community from 2003-2010. She continued working at Columbia Road Health Services until 2013, when she retired from clinical medicine. Now she promotes health of body, mind, and spirit through her website, blog, and various programs at her church. She lives with her husband, Wilbur Turner, Sr. in University Park, Maryland.
Though it’s been ten years since I left the Christ House community, I recognize I was permanently changed by my years working as a staff physician at Christ House and at Columbia Road Health services.
I recently read Dr. Goetcheus’ kind words about Gerald, long-time Christ House member, who died this summer. In 2018, I had the privilege of interviewing Gerald, and other men from Kairos where I had lived, as research for a book I’m writing. I heard repeated expressions of exuberant gratitude and profound wisdom.
Gerald quoted Larry Watson, a long-time addiction counselor at Christ House, saying we are all “joined by our brokenness.” Paul spoke of the Christ House family, describing it as “one body with many parts, staff and everyone, and if one suffers, everyone suffers.”
I recalled these conversations when earlier this year I read Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. As a young attorney, Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative and spent his life seeking justice for those languishing in jail or on death row for years or decades after being wrongly accused. I don’t know how anyone could read this powerful book and not grasp the depth of accumulated pain and righteous anger in our country.
Towards the end of the book, in speaking of his own struggles during this long fight against injustice and oppression, Stevenson mentioned the words of Thomas Merton, that we are “bodies of broken bones.” Here’s the full Merton quote:
As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish. There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate.
Stevenson went on to discuss how we are all broken in some way. He said, “We all hurt someone and have been hurt.” He revealed how he finally understood that being broken is what makes us human and said, “Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.”
Just as Merton says we must choose to love or to hate, Stevenson also speaks of choice with these words:
We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.
Over and over the Christ House community of patients, residents, volunteers, and staff makes the choice to embrace the humanness and brokenness that to which Stevenson refers. I saw the undeniable results of these choices when I witnessed how the love, respect, faith, and community found in Christ House could heal the broken. This certainly applies to the patients who were healed, often when conventional medical and psychiatric treatment had proved insufficient. But, it also applies to the staff and volunteers, including me, who might not even have recognized they were broken and in need of healing. I am so grateful for my time at Christ House.
May God bless the entire Christ House community. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they have continued to provide service to those in most need. I’m sure your prayers and financial support would be greatly appreciated.
Donna Chacko, M.D.
P.S. My years at Christ House often influence what I write about in my blog. You might be interested in some of them, such as:
- https://www.serenityandhealth.com/blog-post/straddling (about racism) or
- https://www.serenityandhealth.com/blog-post/2rdjdkozt4r1jrtjfa836jf6niqg7k-3e7kt (about Adverse Childhood Events-ACEs)
Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, 2014, p. 289
New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton, 2007, p.72