Monday :: Feb 11, 2013

Book Review: Beyond the Possible


by paradox

Beyond the Possible
Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani
HarperOne Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-210504-2

Written in alternating first-person narrative from Dr. Cecil Williams and Ms. Janice Mirikitani, Beyond the Possible is ostensibly the story of how the now-famous Glide Memorial church in San Francisco came into being, but there are so many other stories in the tale that are just as relevant.

A story of individual psychologies that overcame deep and vivid racial persecution, along with tearing inner mental problems that were ultimately recovered from, leaving very powerful minds that went on to do great things.

An institutional story of the Methodist church and what happens when a fervent young black minister from the south arrives and at a nearly-dead church in San Francisco and turns it upside down into an amazing story of spiritual inclusiveness, rebirth and growth.

A story of social engagement by a church into some of society’s most pressing and intractable problems in an appalling environment, often with amazing results of success in alleviating hunger, homelessness, mental illness, racial and sexual persecution, and addiction.

An incalculably valuable United States and San Francisco historical snapshot 1940--2012 from the perspective of two extraordinary humans, one of whom began life in a Japanese internment camp.

I can imagine Dr. Williams nodding in an easy satisfied way, yet still asking “But what about the love, dude?”

[small smile] Yes, of course, Beyond the Possible is many things but ultimately a story of love in all its kaleidoscope of forms, a vivid tale of what love can do when given without condition and automatic application. I don’t presume to know Dr. Williams in any sense, yet I suspect he would agree that love is what Glide Memorial and Beyond the Possible is really all about, so with the few words I have I’ll take a shot at one of the many facets of love represented in this remarkable book.

I was immediately struck by the crashing disaster to the human psyche when love is absent, so many souls in the Tenderloin—thousands of children, mind you—fleeing from vicious and unspeakable abuse and violence, women trying to cope with present family psychology with appalling histories of sexual abuse, wretched souls wandering the streets fated there only by basic and understandable mental illness, so many facing unbelievable persecution just for being gay.

In the midst of all this psychological mayhem brutal rejection from family and society, my God how could souls ever heal and make it back from all that and get into a good place? Yet they have at Glide Memorial, many thousands of times, great stories of many small steps and triumphs.

I take this path in reviewing the book because it will always do me well to remember, I’m not sure if hope is precisely the correct word that was left in me when I finished the book, but I was vividly impressed that humans in manifestly more wretched and worse psychological shape than I have forgiven themselves and others, have grown over years into places of relative peace and gone on to spreading a lot of love into the world themselves.

[sigh] I don’t think I could ever get into that space, there are events and humans in my life that are eternally fucking unforgiven, I have been broken with unspeakable events and sickness, I am coherent and healthy enough yet always basely confused and mistrustful. A little punchy and aggressive about it all, kind of.

Just to get personal and up front about it, y’all know me and the rules. But Dr. Williams and Ms. Mirikitani were ill and set back from monstrous issues, yet look where they went. Tens of thousands in the Tenderloin have overcome impossible issues in the care of Glide Memorial much worse than mine and are today basically happy humans. Somehow Dr. Williams and Ms. Mirikitani found a way to spread enough unconditional love around for enough time so that humans healed and thrived. It happens.

Well. Heavy stuff, I guess, but that’s what good books do, they provoke the deepest of thoughts and emotions in us. My political philosophy has always been a fierce defense and advocacy of the little people and it was such a gratifying experience to read the example of what happens when little people are not rejected or abused. Thank you, Dr. Williams and Ms. Mirikitani, for all of your work and Glide Memorial and with the little people, and of course many thanks for Beyond the Possible.

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