I got up this morning possessed by no greater motivation than the need to get my clothes dry cleaned before Monday. I had to have them in by 9:00 a.m. I rolled out of bed, pulled on some dirty jeans and a t-shirt, brushed my teeth, and seeing that the hairbrush would do no good, I put on a ball cap to keep my fly away hair covered. I looked like Saturday morning with nothing to do. I arrived at 8:59, breathless, arms filled with my clothes.
It's been a hard week. Everyone else around me knew that long before I did. I played tough, wearing the "counselor face," as one person suggested. I'm not really sure why, except that the situation called for professionalism, and I didn't quite know how to just let my stress be and still be professional. Perhaps it would have been good to let down outside of work. Instead, I stayed close to home, ate poorly, and let my normally hyper self-evaluative self work unchallenged. By the time I got home from work yesterday, I was exhausted.
The past few days have begun with the temptation to stay in bed. The evenings have been temptations to isolate. I've gotten up late every morning, and I've done a lousy job of getting out and doing things I know will help. This morning on my way home from the dry cleaners I stopped for coffee and a muffin. I found a gentleman I'd met at a small group meeting a little over a week ago having his breakfast in the bakery as well. Though I'd planned to get mine to go, he invited me to join him, so I placed my order, got my coffee and sat down at the table with him.
I know his first name, not his last. I sat in a group from church with him for an hour and a half, an uncomfortable hour and a half at that, one in which I found myself simultaneously annoyed by a few members of the group and deeply moved by others. He was new and spoke hesitantly at first, but as he felt himself heard, began to speak more confidently. His hair and beard are white, his voice soft and melodic, his eyes searching and bright. I instantly felt a connection with him, but our paths had not crossed since. I was delighted to see him.
As he broke his croissant to eat it, he described what he does everyday to combat the loneliness and frustration of being retired and alone. He gets up and gets out, meets friends for coffee, runs errands, goes for a walk, anything to get himself out the door every morning as if he is going to work. With tears in his eyes, he said, "I want to live. These things help me live. I have to make the choice to do them everyday."
He had no idea the struggle it was to get out of bed this morning. We had been talking for no more than two minutes when he said it. He had no way of knowing that I'm stressed and tempted to fall into old habits. He was simply telling his own story. And I needed to hear it.
This is the sort of thing that happens so often now. I meet people I don't really know and there's this sense of comfort sharing from the heart, not just talking about ideas or events, but talking about life's lessons and the hunger to live. Sometimes I look for it, but more often than not, these conversations just find me, and often in the moments when I need them most. I asked a friend if this was a typical experience in our church, trying, as I often do, to find an explanation, to understand how it works. Her reply was simple, "It's both ordinary and extraordinary. The extraordinary part is that you are awake to it."
I've been asleep for a really long time. Being awake is a new experience, sometimes delightful, sometimes frightening and painful. Like a child who's afraid of missing something when the house is still alive and she's been sent to bed for the night, I fight the sleepy darkness that sometimes woos me, tempting me to give up, to believe that all this hard work is for nothing, that being numb is better. I will fight it, though. Like the gentleman I met at breakfast, I want to live.