A guy came up to me to ask the same expected questions with the same manufactured concern as all the other people. I really was so tired of hearing the, “I’m so glad you are back, I was so concerned” statements from these people. I knew they meant well. I also knew that they were thinking about me when they saw me, but sincerely doubted that they really thought much at all about me and the guys I deployed with in their day to day lives. They needed a reminder or a trigger during the day, like a news report or a headline, to be reminded about us on the other side of the globe.
I don’t even remember hearing his question though I remember seeing his lips move. I had been playing my role, doing my scripted dance all day and I was tired. I remember looking at this guy who I didn’t actually know and thinking that he looked old enough to get punched in the gut and young enough to not actually be that hurt by it. I unloaded on him. I gave him exactly what Fred hoped I would give somebody. It took every bet of 30 seconds. Every word that came out felt like a little bit of water spraying through a mud retaining wall carrying a bit of dirt with it. Every word enlarged the hole, the dam was breaking, and there was less and less to restrain the tone and flavor of my emotions. Each word sprayed out and gave way for more words to follow. Thirty-ish seconds later and the that pool was drained.
In such a short moment, I had accidentally done what Fred had wanted me to do. I broke from the formation, stopped marching according to the rhythm of the day and told the truth.
This guy looked like he had been punched in the gut. His response was one of the most beautiful things ever.
“I… I have no response for that. I’m sorry. I didn’t expect that, but maybe I should have. I have to go… I want to hear more. I’ll cancel my evening and come to your place if you would let me.”
There are tears in my eyes as I remember that moment. He made good on his word too. He showed up that evening to the place I was staying and we stood out in a wood shop for hours. He became my friend.
He asked questions. Questions that a lot of people in our different cultures would say are “wrong” to ask. I didn’t get offended or hurt by the questions. Truth be told, I owed him the grace to ask the questions since I kind of demanded grace from him when I unloaded at church that morning. I listened to the questions he asked and realized more and more that this guy was drinking in who I am. He wasn’t hunting for facts or a fun story. He wasn’t looking for something to take away from me. He was taking his time to share in who I was, and who I was struggling to become.
He listened to me. He would apologize before his questions and I can now look back and see that he must have felt awkward, knowing he was walking in troubled waters and not wanting to create a messy disaster. His apologies and questions revealed his vulnerability. And then he listened. And listened. He would grimace every now and then, laugh from time to time, usually neither of those were at “appropriate” moments, but emotions do strange things when they are running high. I didn’t care.
He was humble and kind. Living in a vulnerable moment.
I was less humble and probably unkind. Living in a vulnerable moment.
We felt as though we were experiencing something real.