One very cold Friday evening when I was a senior in college, something happened that left me feeling very sad and very vulnerable. I sat in my room, staring into space, until the phone rang.
A friend was calling to invite me to a party, but as soon as he heard my voice, he said, "I'm coming to be with you. I'll be there in a minute." I tried to tell him that he didn't need to come, that he should go to the party and that I was fine, that I'd see him the next morning. He wouldn't listen.
Although his dorm room was a twenty-minute walk away, in ten minutes he knocked on my door and called my name.
He walked in, didn't even ask what had happened, and put his arms around me. He was taller than I am, and much broader shouldered. He completely enveloped me, saying, "I love you with the purest love, agape. I love you and I am here for you because there is nowhere I more belong." (Yes, he was a humanities nerd--and yes, he could say a line like this and make it not sound stilted.)
This young man was skinny, muscular, and big-boned. There was nothing at all soft about his shoulders. I felt like I was surrounded by a warm cage which would protect me and get me through absolutely anything.
* * *
Last night I dreamed of all that happened that evening, of the pain as well as the profound sense of safety I felt. It has been a very long time since I have thought about all the details or the feelings of that evening.
* * *
Back when it happened for real, my friend stayed with me all night, awake for hours in the rocking chair, watching me even after I was calm enough to sleep. When we awoke, I knew I had to emerge from the cage and face the world on its own terms.
I'm not sure anyone has ever done anything kinder than what he did, this young man that, before that night, I admired tremendously but never imagined cared for me very much in any way.
* * *
I woke up from the dream this morning so sad that I was almost in tears. There are times when I just want to have my problems taken over by someone else, to have someone shield me again so solidly from any difficulties.
But that is not what we need, not if we are going to be growing human beings, not what I need, and I know it.
I look at all the things I fear are ahead for me, ahead for us as a people. I can't do it alone--and luckily, I don't have to. If we're lucky, we have people to hold our hands and offer us soft shoulders, not build cages around us. We need to walk together into the scary future with our eyes open and our hearts exposed.