A third extract from ‘Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion’ by Father Gregory Boyle, which you should clearly be able to gather by now i am adding to my ‘Books i would love for all my friends to read’ list so just do it already. So brief background to this short piece is that Father Boyle works predominantly with gangsters and ex-gangsters through a number of different businesses that fall under the banner of Homeboy Industries which means that guys [and sometimes girls] from rival gangs often end up working side by side:

‘No question gets asked of me more than, “What’s it like having enemies working together?”

The answer: it is almost always tense at first. A homie will beg for a job, and perhaps I have an opening at the Bakery. 

“But you’re gonna have to work with X, Y and Z,” naming enemies already working there. He thinks a bit, and invariably will say: “I’ll work with him, but I’m not gonna talk to him.”

In the early days, this would unsettle me. Until I discovered that it always becomes impossible to demonize someone you know.’

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‘I take two recently hired enemies, Artie and Danny to Oakland for a talk I am going to give. They will man the table in the front and sell Homeboy and Homegirl merchandise. The trip is excrutiating as they will not speak to each other. I carry the ball entirely in the conversation and only occasionally do they grunt assent or nod, “uh-huh.”

Before the talk, we’re standing on the terrace at our hotel, overlooking a boardwalk along the water, near Jack London Square in Oakland. [Brett: That is literally a block away from where tbV and i work!] We stand there in silence watching the people below. I give up trying to keep things conversational. 

Down below there is a sweet old couple, probably married well beyond fifty years. They are holding hands. Danny elbows Artie and points at the old couple. “That’s disgusting.”

Cómo que ‘disgusting’?” I turn on him. “It’ sweet. It’s an old couple.”

“Still,” Danny says, “it’s disgusting.”

“What are you talking about?” I press him.

“Well it’s only obvious.” Danny points one more time as the couple disappear from sight. “They’re under the influence of Viagra.”

A completely silly joke by anyone’s standards, but Artie and Danny collapse in howling and high fives. 

Some passage has been cleared, and they both choose to move through it. An artificially silly wall has divided them, only to be brought to rubble by an outrageously silly thing.

A footnote: Artie and Danny become great and enduring friends, whose friendship has to be kept secret always from their own homeboys.

Thomas Merton writes: “We discover our true selves in love.”

Nothing is more true than this in Artie and Danny. Love never fails. It will always find a way to have its way.’

[from the chapter ‘Jurisdiction’ in Father Gregory Boyle’s excellent book, ‘Tattoos on the Heart’]

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[To read the next passage titled, ‘Standing with the Least Likely to Succeed’ click here]

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