Suddenly, he was just there. He startled those around me, too. My Grandmother used to refer to some people she knew as 'the walking wounded'. She always meant it charitably and most importantly, descriptively. His clothes were dirty and mismatched. His shirt both tucked in and not. His hair both brushed and not. It was the kind of outfit that was only missing the twitch.
He began to speak, seemingly to no one there. All those around me tensed. Most looked ready to run. The red light seemed to have forgotten to change. I did not tense. I heard his voice, it was not ranting, not raving. It was gentle. Kind, even. And if you listened to the words, which I have learned over the years to do, they were full of meaning, not malice. They were soft words of reassurance. As I suspected his words had an audience. Not us, beside him. Not Satan, below him. Not Martians, above him. But Self, within him.
"It's just fear. That's all, just fear. You are bigger than fear. You are stronger than fear. You control fear. Fear does not control you. You control fear."
"You've made it another hour. That's good. That's great. You can do another hour, two easy. You're on your way. Focus. Focus."
"You are the voices in your head. You speak the words. You can choose the words to be kind. You can choose the words to be encouraging. You can stop hateful words. You can stop harmful mantras. You can give yourself the love you need."
The light changed. We all headed across the street. He was a few feet behind my chair. Mumbling to himself. Taking care of himself. Encouraging himself. I believed, at that moment, entirely in his ability to make it this time. I don't know how many times he has tried or how many times he has failed, but this time I believe for him. I send my belief to him. I hope as he sleeps it's my encouragement he hears in his dreams.
Who knows who hurt him in the past.
Who knows who taught him gentle words.
Of the two, I know which I'd like to meet.
I wonder if those around him had listened to his words. How many would have learned something from him. About the everyday courage that every day takes.