My mind is full of long nights of the soul. I've been working on the Disability Blog Carnival which will appear tomorrow and thus reading the posts submitted and thinking through the issues they raise. Joe was getting impatient as the time to leave in order to be on time for the movie was fast approaching and I was still at the computer. I pulled myself away from one screen to head out towards another.
As tradition has it, once outside, I scoot off and Joe and I meet in the theatre. It's a longer distance for me as I have to go to the front of the building to hit the accessible entrance. I don't mind the time riding up there, it's one of the few times that I can open up my chair unencumbered. As I near the corner, I see a man, bundled up in a ratty sleeping bag, tucked in a little alcove made on one side of shrub, on the other of brick. He is sleeping. Pressed up against his face is an old and worn teddy bear. The fur is either rubbed off or ratty. The bear stares out at the world through one remaining eye. There is stuffing coming out where one arm used to be. I can see that some kind of tape has been placed over the wound in an ineffectual attempt to stem the bleeding of cotton wool.
Even though he is asleep, I can feel the desperation with which he holds on to that bear. I can feel the comfort it gives him, it's one eye no longer looks blank, it looks, somehow, warily protective. I'm glad he has the bear. I'm glad the bear has him. It seems a perfect relationship.
Continuing on towards the theatre, I think more about him and that bear. I wonder if he knows that the power that the bear has to comfort him is the power that he gives it. I wonder if he knows that he is more able than he could ever imagine. We are never, truly, comforted by others. We allow ourselves to be comforted.
I am with a woman when her husband dies. We've been waiting for this to come. The news still is shocking. The expected has become unexpected. I find that there is nothing to say. Words are meaningless. Touch is intrusive. I am struck silent. I am immobilized by her grief. I don't know what to do but I know I'm supposed to do something. I dig deep to find something to say. I stumble through. She smiles at me gratefully.
Later, much later, we talk about that moment, I admit to finding myself inadequate. She says that I said just the right thing. I look confused. She said, cryptically, 'It isn't what you said that mattered, it's what I heard'. I know what she means. In loss, I am comforted not by what people say to me but by the fact that they are speaking at all. I am comforted because in their words I hear what I need to hear. 'Time will heal' may come off the tongue but 'I am here and I love you' is what goes in my ear. I have the power to pull comfort out of meaningless phrases. I have the ability to find comfort in sound.
So can he, the man who sleeps on the street.
He can hold on to a bear and find what he needs there. He can find it because he put it there. He knows where kindness is buried because he marked the spot. It may look like a shabby dependency but it's not. He holds on to what he needs of himself. The bear, it just keeps what he gave it safe, just for awhile.
And then, when he sleeps, the bear gently gives it back.