I was on my way home from visiting a friend in Indianapolis, listening to a talk by Fr. Richard Rohr (https://cac.org). He was talking about a time that he was working in India giving retreats and teaching. He told a story of meeting an Indian “holy man” during his stay and how deeply moved he was by something the “holy man” said. He told Fr. Rohr that:
“A great man has two hearts. One bleeds and the other forbears.”
Rohr went on to explain that the word “forbear” was used in one of its oldest meanings. It is a word whose origin dates from before 900 CE. It derives from the Middle English term foreberen which means “to endure.” The “great man,” then, has a heart which is able to “bleed,” to feel pain and compassion for his fellows, and to endure when circumstances call for this quality of character.
I was so struck by this phrase and Fr. Rohr’s use of it that when I got home I did a search online to learn more. It turns out that the “holy man” in India was quoting a line from Sand and Foam (1926) by Khalil Gibran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931), a Lebanese artist, poet, and writer. Gibran is, perhaps, most well known in the English-speaking world for his book The Prophet (1923), an early example of inspirational fiction. This book includes a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. You may be familiar with his oft-quoted essays; On Love, On Marriage, and On Children.
In those three essays he expands on the themes of love and commitment. He speaks eloquently of the gifts as well as the costs and demands of true love which we can only know if we “yield” to it. When we try to control it, we lose it as surely as trying to hold onto the wind. Love promises both wonder and wounding. The “great man” knows this and is able to forbear through the bleeding until he finds fulfillment in the deep connection and intimacy of love. It is true with his beloved and true even for his connection to all of humankind. Compassion, which is born in love, expresses this willingness to “suffer with” another in sharing pain until it is resolved. Gibran expresses these ideas in the following verses from On Love:
“Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”
Gibran summarizes all this in his quote, ”You may forget the one with whom you have laughed, but never the one with whom you have wept.”