Earlier today, I walked by a man sitting on the street with his knees bent, his feet flat on the ground. His hands were wrapped around his neck, loose but not still. He bent his head, down to the side, I could see he sides of his eyes, looking down at the pavement. In that moment his hands were almost massaging his neck, not fast and frenzied but in a way that seemed sad and self-comforting. I felt such fierce sadness coming from him. Anger and sadness but mostly sadness. He had a sign at his feet and it read, "mad as hell because you all are in paradise."
My heart stopped, startled at the wave of emotion that swept through it. I felt the urge to give him some cash. But just as quickly, I felt both surprised and suddenly ashamed at that impulse. I am not ashamed to give to people who need money or food but he didn't want my money. He wanted something I couldn't give him. He didn't have anything but a cardboard sign, no cup, no hat. He was out there, sitting alone, nearly crying, opening his heart full of pain to the world around him. To a world he didn't feel a part of. To show them, to show us, his pain.
I felt ashamed because to him, I was a part of the "you all." Walking by in my work clothes to home, listening to music on my iphone moving from one part of my day to the next. To him, I wasn't anyone but a person living in a paradise he didn't feel like he was a part of.
I felt the urge to turn around, walk to him and tell him, that wait, I feel like you too sometimes. There are times that I've felt so angry, so hurt and just so goddamn sad about how I've felt in the world that I think I'm living in a hell no one else is too. That sometimes, it does really hurt to live in this world because you can feel a lot of pain as a person, that there is a lot of abuse; and sometimes the sadness and the fear and the anger around us on the news, in our lives, in our homes, in our communities, in the world is just overwhelming.
And, I wanted him to know I wasn't in paradise, either. But that, even though I don't live in paradise, sometimes it can feel so blissful and I can find happiness. I wanted to look him in the eyes and from deep in my soul say that you may not be able to see it right now and I really get that, but hold on. I know it hurts now, but hold on. So you can try to see something different, later.
I know that just holding on isn't good for every situation, for every person. I know when people used to tell me that, after over a decade of frequent, long standing bouts of serious depression, it made things worse. Much worse. I felt guilty and blamed myself thinking, I've been holding on for years and it doesn't change! I thought there was something wrong with me, my life.
But it's been in learning to trust that holding on is what's gotten me through and what will get ;me through. That holding on is powerful. It's what has helped me get to a place where even though I'm not in paradise, I am ok. Still feeling the horrible, but also feeling the great.
That the thing about holding on, is that you are holding on to hope. A hope that it will end and when it does the sun might come out and you might feel different, better.
I kept walking, feeling a guilty I didn't stop but the farther away I got, the harder it was to turn around. I walked down the road past where the buses are. I looked into the eyes of a man sitting there and he just looked back into me. I felt a sense of emptiness between us, not in a sad way, it's just here I was in this quick second looking into another person's eyes and I feel a moment of vast emptiness. Not sad entirely, more honest; we didn't know each other. It was like we were living in totally different worlds just connecting for that second to see one another. And seeing an ocean between us.
Turning a corner, I started walking up a set of stairs. Feeling, more than thinking, about connection. A spit second later, as I placed my first on the first stair, an ambulance raced by, loud, intrusive and startling. And very close.I jumped as my heart skipped a beat. Thinking about the ambulance, the sounds coming from that truck only mean one thing: pain. Somewhere, someone is in pain of some kind and they need help. An ambulance, an answer to a call for help.
The last few moments from the man with the sign to the eyes to the ambulance opened up to me the how I can sometimes feel living in this world, and it feels like anything but paradise. I let out my breath, just letting it go as the ambulance passed. I took a deep breath and held on to the railing and continued up the stairs.
Man in hell: it's not easy and it's not paradise. But the loud and intrusive and startling parts of pain pass. Reach out for help if you need to, that's ok. But just hold on, in whatever way you can. To whatever railings you need to keep you standing though this. Breathe, cry, scream, whatever. Just hold on. And thank you for trying to connect. Thank you, for being brave enough to open your heart, especially when it was full of such pain and show the rest of us how you felt.