By Sister Keith Marcinak, OSF
The story of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio has many meanings for many people. It conjures up in the mind a “taming” of the animal. The taming can also be called “mercy.”
As I write this, I recall an incident that I had while in my ministry, as a therapist to those who have a “co-occurring disorder,” that is, doing therapy with mentally ill drug addicts. I have been graced with the ability to show mercy to those whose “wolf “cries out for help.
One such client prowled the agency hallways for three years growling at staff and ready to attack the doctor. His actions brought judgment on him and fear to the medical staff.
The entire staff would shut their doors when he appeared. They hid behind their “gates.” No one in the agency wanted to deal with him. Everyone gave a reason not to take him on. They were afraid.
I was assigned to have him on my case load. After three months of him prowling the agency, the psychiatrist asked me, “How long are you going to keep him?” I said, “We’ll see.”
For three years he appeared in my office. He was very loud, angry and unlikable. In his blazing eyes I saw fear, anger and hurt. I stood my ground and told him that that if he stopped his attacks that I would see to it that he got the help he needed.
He had experienced dark days and alienation from his true self. He was filled with shame, survivor guilt, rage and mistrust. He was bruised and hurting. His inner wolf needed mercy. If the pain was left unchecked and unexplored, it would devour his humanity as well as his dignity.
My approach with him stems from how I choose to practice my spirituality. Since he did not trust anyone, I wanted to just be there for him. My silence of understanding was proving to be effective. He began to seek peace not information. My presence said to him “I am here for the real you not the wolf.”
Two times a month he would come to my office, yelling and screaming how life was unfair. The male therapists on either side of my office would stand guard at my office when he came to see me, ready to rush in if they heard any furniture moving. He would ask for answers and I would have none. I knew in my mind and heart that he was not ready to deal with his hurt. I just sat through the storm with him.
At the closing of the third year, I asked him if he wanted to continue to see me. He nodded and said yes. By this point in time, he had calmed down and was no longer the “savage wolf” but a hurt young man. He still had his outbursts but was becoming less of the raging animal within.
When I asked him what we needed to work on, he softly said, “I need to deal with the sexual abuse that happened to me years ago.” Then, his eyes teared up and he began to sob. He said, “I know the hurt and pain that caused others to be frightened of me but, I never knew how to deal with it. I think because of your kindness and not judging me, I am ready to talk about it.”
He began to change in front of me and the staff. No longer was he the rough, growling savage wolf that came in three years ago but a calmer, hurting man working his way back into his humanity. Staff began to talk with him and he felt welcomed at the office. His true self was finally awakened and he carried himself with dignity. He was finally learning to “tame” what was violent and wild within him.
How do we meet the wolf in us? How do we meet the wolf in others? Are we too easy to criticize that which is not known to us? Does our fear prohibit us from approaching the wolf?
Thank you for your fine reflection, Sister Keith. Your experience with the angry man–and the way that you tell it–prompted me to reflect on how I respond to persons who are hurt, and are unable to express it directly unless we are patient, courageous, and listen with heart as well as mind. Thank you so much, Sr. Brigid
Well said, Sr. Keith. I hope to remember your reflection the next time I see the Wolf of Gubbio.
Great reflection, Sister Keith, thanks for sharing this powerful experience.
Would that we all had your compassion and your patience, Sister Keith. Our world would be a much different place!
Sister Keith, what a moving experience you shared. I was deeply touched reading this, even t tears. So many suffer from the wolf in them. I never looked at a situation like this in the eyes of it being a “wolf” within. Thank you for this part of your life you have shared with so many to share with us–open our own thinking about the “wolf” that may be in us, maybe causing us to react toward others or criticize others. Thank you so much. Much to think about.
Thank you so much for sharing the gifts God has given you with the alienated, abused and marginalized, Sr. Keith! And with many of us who also fit those categories…
Thank you, Sr. Keith, for sharing the importance of listening and helping another, no matter how long it takes. God must be pleased with you for listening to Him!