She is sitting, in the sunshine, crying. Not crazy, loud. Not look at me, sobs. Not angry, shrieks. Just gentle, soft crying. Heard from a distance it would sound like a baby's whimper. She looked like she'd just got the news - her mother's died, her husband's cheated, her dog was run over, her life has forever changed. She looked struck down by grief, as if she had lost both the will and the power to move from that spot. As if she'd be there, a statue in the memory of human pain, for eternity.
My heart immediately felt for her. I didn't know what had happened, how she came to this place, where she'd be going next. But it didn't matter. I saw grief. I saw pain. I saw loss. I know the holy trinity of sorrow. Tears have travelled down my cheeks as they now journey down hers. I know what it is to be human, to love, to misjudge the character of another, to trust that a moment of time will last eternally and then it doesn't.
I wanted to embrace her. I wanted to fold her into my arms and tell her it would be OK. I wanted to whisper words of assurance into her ears. I wanted her to feel my heart beat as she lay her head on my chest, I wanted her to know that there was still life, and warmth, and love in the world for her. I wanted to do something deep. I wanted to act in a way with profound meaning.
But I didn't. We humans don't behave that way. We care, at a distance. We step around pain and give it privacy. I am one who believes in boundaries. I am one who believes that people are safer when space is respected. I am one who holds to the principles of privacy.
However, I only believe these things because the world is dangerous. Touch has the power to heal but it also has power to hurt. Mistrust makes sense in a world of wild unpredictability.
But I wish it weren't so.
I wish I could have stopped and embraced her, held her as she cried, let her feel truly safe in my arms.
I wish I could have done something, anything.
Other than simply drive by.
I wish the world was a safe enough place to allow that.
I think it is incredibly sad that people today don't think that it is appropriate even to stop and ask a hurting person what's wrong, if there's anything to be done. I don't mean to offer a hug or a shoulder to a perfect stranger, but to ask a perfect stranger if there is anything they need... that is true compassion and love. We should all try to reach out to strangers more. (And I include myself in that - as an introvert, it's extremely difficult to talk to people I KNOW, never mind people I've never met!)
Couldn't you have said "Are you okay?" without touching her? Plenty of people have done that for me and I have almost always appreciated it, knowing someone else cared enough to stop and think of me. I think most likely she would have too. Maybe, maybe not - but worth a try.
I think it is Ok to stop and ask "Is there anything I can do to help."
so beautifully written and so sad..
I would have done the same - but I might not next time, since reading several people's secrets on Postsecret where they said, in effect "To the stranger who stopped and asked if I was okay/asked if I needed a hug/reassured me when I was sitting in public crying the other day, thank you, you saved my life."
http://postsecret.blogspot.com/ - great site if you haven't encountered it before, you might have a secret or two you want to send in yourself!
I did stop once when I saw a man crying. He was a guy who often played the flute near where I live, in a public tunnel running between a hotel and a bunch of underground shops. I even touched him. But then, touch does tend to be interpreted a lot differently when a woman initiates than when a man initiates it.
This was a few days after September 11. It turned out that he knew some friends in the World Trade Center but still had no idea whether they were all right because he hadn't heard from them and couldn't reach them. (This was when phone lines between New York and the outside world were still perpetually tied up with anxious people trying to reach people they knew.) He seemed to really appreciate my showing my concern and was friendly the next few times I passed by him. He made a point of letting me know, some time later, that he had found out his friends were okay. So I'm really glad I stopped to talk to him.
I can understand not wanting to touch. It's something all of us should be careful of, even women. And doubly so for men. But I would assume that in many cases, talk should be okay. Even if they don't want you to stay, they might still appreciate the gesture.
I love your heart, Dave. I really do...
makes me think of this past autumn when i was sitting on a bench under a bridge that my dear friend jumped off hours before, and i was overcome with grief and was sobbing... a woman jogging by stopped and just stood close to me, gently asking if i needed something...i said no, that i just needed to cry, and she asked if perhaps i would like her to sit with me, which she eventually did. it was a beautiful way to offer a human heart. we talked a little together and she offered kind, thoughtful words, but it was really her gentle presence that touched me.
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