I recently started reading Ghost Rider, Neil Peart’s account of a 55,000 mile road trip he did by motorcycle to help him deal with personal tragedy. His 19 year old daughter died in a car accident, and ten months later his partner of 22 years died of cancer (although he claimed the real cause was a broken heart). Not knowing how to respond, he left his house in Quebec and drove to Alaska, then south into Mexico and Belize before returning home.
Early in the book Peart mentions how the deaths changed his perspective on life. Before that point, he had led a blessed life untouched by death or disease with a job he enjoyed (he was the drummer for Rush, arguably the most successful Canadian rock band of all time). As you might expect, the fame and money that being in a world famous band brought a fair number of people who tried to befriend him for what he could do for them. His belief was, as he put it, “Life is good, but people suck.”
After he experienced tragedy his mantra became “Life sucks, but people are good.” His new attitude stemmed from those who supported him through the blackest time of his life. After his daughter’s death, various friends and family took care of his business dealings, ran interference to make sure he wasn’t overwhelmed by well-wishers, and even accompanied him and his partner overseas to prevent either of them from committing suicide as they grappled with their loss. After his partner died, he continued to lean on others, and during his journey he met others who unwittingly helped him regain his emotional balance. Before he started his trip he received help from some who had been only marginal characters in his life, and he was touched by their concerns. During his trip few of the people he met knew his plight, but their simple acts of civility and hospitality helped him heal.
I have often wondered what has made Peace House Community such a special place, and I believe a lot of it comes down to the founder’s view of life. Sister Rose Tillemans would probably have agreed with Peart that “Life sucks, but people are good”. She had suffered many mental health crises and even been hospitalized on occasion. She had spent her life in activities that helped others, but she wasn’t satisfied. She realized that hurting people often needed connection rather than activity to help them heal. As a result, she created a place that didn’t offer counseling, or provide housing, or train people to get jobs. She gave people a place to sit and talk, and to heal from what the life had done to them.
I enjoy working at Peace House Community more than any other agency where I have ever worked. The reason is simple: every day I get to see that people can be good, even when the life they lead really does suck. Generosity, support, and laughter make life bearable for those who have little and can expect little from life. I get to see goodness if I just stop to see it.
by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.