The Story of the Birthday of the World
as told by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
“ In the
And then (perhaps because this is a Jewish story) there was an accident. The vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into 1000 thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
According to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, and to lift it up and make it visible once again, and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.
This is a very important story for the world today. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew, which means the restoration of the whole world. This is a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive and all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.
This story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you. That’s around you. This is our power. “
I remember the day as if it were yesterday, despite it having been many years ago. It was a time in my life I was feeling incredibly sad, broken really. The gravity of my heavy heart was pulling me down in ways that everyday living felt insurmountable. On this particular day, I remember feeling a level of desperation that accompanied my unrelenting grief. The desperation was fueled by a need to feel different somehow, to escape the confines of my body and be liberated from the mental chains to which I was bound.
It sounds trivial now, but that morning I had forgot my running shoes in the bag I packed to take with me to work. I had to run; I craved some relief. In retrospect, maybe I was trying to run away from how I was feeling or outrun whatever it was I was afraid to face. I don’t know, but after a trip to the shoe store and a new pair of running shoes in hand, I headed to the gym. It was a cold, sleeting, and miserable that day. The gym looked out onto the parking lot, easily seen from the open expanse of windows lining the front wall. Even the repetitive churning of the treadmill was not enough to drown out the voices in my head. I felt alone.
What happened next, I can only describe as a spiritual experience. Transcendental moments are almost impossible to translate. Words fail to capture and convey the importance of the moment or to relate the absolute certainty that something inside you changed from that felt experience. But this was such a moment for me. I looked up from where I had been staring at the console, watching the seconds drag on, willing my mind to focus on something, anything other than my present experience. I happened to see a young man walking into the gym who was clearly disabled. There was something wrong with one of his legs. He dragged it behind him with much effort. His gait was off, he moved slowly, exerting incredible energy with every step. I admired his grit, his tenacity, and his will to make it out on a cold, dreary day to the gym when it would have been much easier to stay at home. But what really shifted my perspective that day was watching how the people around him offered to help. Whether it was opening a door or carrying his bags, there were offers of assistance and support every step of the way to help him reach his goal.
In a split second, I felt in my body something break apart, tears fell down my face, and I grasped the magnitude of the revelation, I was him. The only difference was, I carried my affliction on the inside. Whether I came into the world that way, or it was from my own history of childhood trauma I don’t know. What I do know is my inside matched his outside. Things I had imagined to be easy for other people, things they maneuvered effortlessly felt unexplainably hard for me. My pain, I dragged along beside me silently.
But there were significant differences as a result of his disability being so clear for the world to see. Unlike me, he had no way to hide his limitations. I, on the other hand, exerted a great deal of energy keeping my brokenness hidden from the world. Shrouded in shame and relegated to the shadows. As I watched him that day, I wondered how much I had missed out on by keeping my woundedness closeted away in isolation.
As the people around him saw him struggle, they went out of their way to open doors, help him get checked in, and there were likely countless more accommodations made to make what was already difficult, any amount easier. Because his need for help was so visible, it allowed others to be there and support him in a way that provided comfort and healing. Something I had been denying myself by masking my wounds behind a veneer of invulnerability.
But no more. I decided that day that whatever I had to do to bring my brokenness into the light, I would do it. By masking my pain, I was making it harder to find the hidden light and bring healing and wholeness to myself and offer the same to the world. When we invest so much time and energy into building a façade of perfection, we miss what is most true. That for each of us, the light is hidden in our places of darkness. There is no path to healing without going into the recesses of the shadow to reclaim the light that resides within each of us. As we grow less afraid of the dark in ourselves, we become more adept at guiding others on this hero’s journey. The Birthday of the World reminds us we are all healers on this road to find the hidden light and make it visible once again and restore the innate wholeness of the world.