By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
“A story buries itself in your heart.”
That’s how Robert Wicks—popular with readers around the world for his books on coping with trauma and restoring resilience in life—explains this unusual new book that’s more storytelling than pointed advice. Wicks’ earlier books are popular for their usefulness to readers, frequently pulled off the shelf and re-read. That’s because he usually packs his books with lists of tips, ideas and questions. A typical Wicks book is half inspirational writing—and half materials for self-reflection and small-group discussion. Rest assured Wicks fans, Night Call does have some of those Wicks-trademark bullet points. There’s even a 55-page guide to a five-day “self-directed resiliency retreat” at the end of this book!
But from the opening page, it’s clear that this volume represents something different among Wicks’ works.
“I’m glad that you picked up that distinctive difference in this book,” Wicks told me as we started our interview about Night Call. “It’s true. This is a unique book. I know that people like my lists—they tell me how useful they are. But lists tend to be tucked away on a shelf.
“People retain stories, because a story buries itself in your heart. Then, when something similar happens in your life, that story comes to mind. In this book, I have included some of the most powerful stories about my life and the work I have done all around the world. I consider this book my legacy.”
WHY IT MATTERS—
BECAUSE NIGHT WILL COME
“Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World” is Wicks’ subtitle for this new book—no surprise to his regular readers. He’s been writing about resilience from this perspective for years.
The difference here is that he directly addresses how to grab hold of our resilience when it seems to be slipping away in the midst of night. And, by “night,” Wicks may indeed be talking about the dead of night in the cycle of our day—an ominous and vulnerable time for all of us. Beyond that, he also is talking about the timeless concept of “night” in the sense that Elie Wiesel uses the term in his memoir Night and St. John of the Cross used it in his 16th Century classic Dark Night of the Soul.
In our interview, Wicks put it this way: “When I am working with people, I try to prepare them for the challenges that inevitably will come. The question is not if night will come. The question is when night comes. That’s not morbid. It’s acknowledging reality.”
Throughout his book, he repeats this frequent admonition to his main body of readers—people in helping professions. At the end of his Epilogue he writes:
It is not if we will experience darkness in a life well lived. It is when. In the case of professional helpers and healers who came in for therapy or mentoring, I found that at about the 10th session, they had built up enough trust to share much of what was bothering them about their situations and, more poignantly, about themselves. And when I would encounter their sadness and rage as their feelings of impotence, experiences of being misunderstood, and stress were tangibly before us, I would of course, feel to some extent the darkness growing within me as well.
Now that sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Please do not shy away from this new book, because Night Call’s true gift to us, as readers, is how Wicks responds when he feels that darkness swirling around someone he is helping—and threatening to engulf him in the process. What he does next is to affirm the potential of bouncing back to a healthy balance of self confidence and renewed vocation. That passage at the end of the Epilogue continues as he looks at the professional who has come to him for help and thinks to himself:
If only you realized how good you are. How gentle and assertive you have been in so many situations and what a positive difference you have made in so many lives.
Right now, consider printing out those lines on a piece of paper you will tape to your bathroom mirror or your refrigerator door. That’s the kind of work Wicks so masterfully carries out year after year. He keeps telling us: Remember who you are! Reclaim your resilience!
And in this volume he adds most forcefully: That’s true even in the midst of our darkest nights.
FINDING BALANCE, HUMILITY
Compassionate, caring love is the core of a satisfying life, Wicks has taught for many years. In Night Call, he reminds readers through dozens of stories—some as short as a paragraph, some as long as a few pages—that men and women engaged in public service must remember that they need compassionate care, too.
In one story, Wicks finds himself caught in a downpour during a break in a series of workshops he was presenting for weary caregivers and aid workers in a region of Cambodia trying to rebuild after devastating violence. Who helps Wicks as he suddenly finds himself threatened by torrential rains? It’s a poor shopkeeper who extends the hospitality Wicks truly needs. That man understands the powerful gift of offering even the smallest of compassionate acts.
The whole process of discernment and rediscovering resilience begins with humility, Wicks said in our interview. “Humility is an elusive virtue,” he said. “It’s often misunderstood as defacing yourself or feeling powerless or letting people step on you. No, humility is a very, very powerful virtue. I believe that true ordinariness is tangible holiness. The shopkeeper had that. Most of us may not think about it. We don’t value this kind of humility. But, when you have humility, you avoid the danger of extreme self confidence on one hand—and then exaggerated self doubt on the other. With humility, we become honest at looking at our gifts. By the same token, we are better equipped to deal with night when it comes.”
Wicks ends this new book with a passage that long-time fans of his work will recognize and welcome.
“By reflection on the need for self-compassion and how to effectively reach out to others with a sense of openness to what we can be taught, there is a real possibility for profound positive change. Why? Because to be truly open, we experience humility and, once again, when we take humility and add it to knowledge we get wisdom. When we take that very wisdom and add it to compassion, we get love, and such love is at the heart of being a true friend to others—actually, it is at the heart of a truly rewarding life.”
CARE TO READ MORE?
If you would like to explore some of our earlier interviews with Robert Wicks, consider:
- For a more recent perspective, you may enjoy this 2014 interview on his book Perspective.
- Reaching back to 2009, Wicks talks with us about his book Prayerfulness.