His face is kind, though it tells the story of a life full of battles. His hair and beard are more gray than black and his teeth cause him pain. There is a twinkle in his eyes most days, except maybe the ones where, according to him, he has “too many feelings”.
He came up rough in the Carolina mountains, in one of those twisted families where a parent chooses one child to abuse. His early years weigh heavy on him still, binding him with tangled emotional knots that he can’t unwind on his own. He lives on the fringes of society, making his own unique way with odd jobs, expressing his unusual soul in folksy metal art, poetry and inventions. His philosophies are as free-spun as he is and he has never met a stranger. Either unaware or uncaring of social mores, he chats openly with everyone he sees and most folks enjoy that. His temper can be hot at times and once you’ve lost his good opinion, he doesn’t waste time pretending to like you.
I don’t always know how to respond to him, but I love him. It makes me hurt sometimes, to think of the hardships he faces just to live from day-to-day. He searches hard for happiness and so finds it most often. But under the happiness is that twisted knot.
I imagine him sometimes, without that knot. I think about his childlike passion for life, his love of everyone he sees. I think how wonderful it would be if he could share that love and enthusiasm for living with others in ways that they would better receive. I imagine the connection he would feel, the one I fear he often doesn’t really have. So many love him, yet so few have a real connection with him. We all need that connection, that sense of belonging and being understood and valued.
If only we lived in a culture that put a high value on mental health. It’s like aids was in the 80’s. The stigma is still there, the fear. I don’t understand it. Don’t we all suffer from the need to have some help unwinding the knots we all have inside, to some extent or another? Life is full of sorrows and suffering; life scars us and cripples us, robbing us of our ability to see clearly and live well. How I wish every broken soul could find mending, not just those rich enough and brave enough to seek that help. If only it were a priority to develop multitudes of ways for the hurting to find comfort and the crippled to be made whole. Wouldn’t we be a stronger people? Wouldn’t we be a people who loved more and more deeply? Wouldn’t our lives be better lived? Wouldn’t we be happier? We are such an unhappy nation.
I see my friend most days that I work at my job at the Waffle House. I try to be present for him, to look him in the eyes and send him love. I chant my metta over him. (May he feel protected and safe. May he be contented and pleased. May his body provide him with strength. May his life unfold smoothly, with ease.) I give him hugs, unless I see that he has too many feelings. But I mourn for the man he could be, in a different culture; a man whose wounds could be healed and his uniqueness celebrated and valued.