A warm evening melting into night, soft breeze rippling Aspen leaves. I was meandering home through back alleys after a sumptuous massage, floating in a dream world. And then. A man, solid, silver-haired, stepped out of his car and faced me. “Can you tell me how to get to McCloud?”
As I took in this surprise apparition before me, a dagger of pain – sharp, searing – arrowed into my chest. So intense, I had to put my fingers to my heart and massage it. His face was steely, as if he was making a concerted effort to hold back tears, as if he knew once he let down even a little bit, he would collapse into a thousand shards of glittering, shattered glass.
I stumbled over words. McCloud? I could see it in my mind’s eye, the tiny lumber town 10 miles east of here. I’d been there dozens of times but how to get there? How to convey to a man with a truck load of pain the easiest, simplest route to wherever it was he needed to be?
In the few moments it took to point to the main boulevard, explain that he needed to take 89 East, my heart had contracted into an unruly, vicious fist. This man was in deep pain, some electric sorrow so intense, it shot out of him, suffocating the air around us. I tried to breathe, to recall the sweet ease of only minutes ago. But I was swaying on my feet, working to balance this abrupt shift of sensation.
For a second, I stared into his piercing blue eyes, my being flooded with a kaleidoscope of emotion. I wanted to weep for him and I wanted that peaceful mist to descend again.
For hours after, his image seared in my brain. The way he held himself, tightly, with extreme care, probably unaware that he was broadcasting the truth of his sadness, that his grief was so immense, it had penetrated beyond the solidity of form.
Days later, the ache of his being drifted through my awareness. I felt sadness, regret that I hadn’t been able to step out of my cosy dream world to offer him something. Anything. I could have asked, “Are you okay?” or “How can I help? I could have folded my arms around him, made a blanket of love and solace and consolation for this man who was treading this undulating path of life as nobly as he possibly could. But I could sense he was in a hurry. He had somewhere – perhaps not pleasant – to be. And he was a stranger.
But was he? He couldn’t be that separate from me or I wouldn’t have imbibed his pain so directly, so profoundly. He was a companion on this earth, someone I might have offered an ounce of support to, made his journey a little less harrowing. But I did nothing, only waved him off. Did I even wish him well? Did I offer specific enough directions? Was it excuse enough that I was not quite in my body even as he brought me back to it with lightning speed?
If we were to have a do-over, would it be any different? Could I stretch across that vast bridge of etiquette, of societal norms, and take his hand? Say, “I feel your struggle, dear man?” Brother? Friend?
He entered my body. Surely that was permission enough to admit we were connected. As we all are, clumsily moving forward with as much dignity and grace as we can. Let us offer a hand, a warm word when a fellow traveler crosses our path. We are more intimate with each other than we can imagine. Let us lay down our protective cloaks and embrace whatever is before us. Together, holding each other, we can get to wherever we’re going more easily, and surely, our ultimate destination is the very same: Home, oh god, Sweet Home.