I wrote this in April of 2002 for a college class. I have taken some authorship liberties and corrected or removed some of the original. However, I do leave most of the style choices intact so you can see what I was attempting (failure or not) to communicate.
So. Life is suffering. Most of us know this, realize this. It isn’t that life doesn’t have joy or light or good. It does. Life does. But, suffering is a constant. It is a constant for humankind and for me. Jesus knew this. He walked the earth and focused on the relief of suffering. He taught a gospel of suffering. He died suffering. If you are a Christian, you believe he did this for you and me to show us an example. I think he suffered because we all do. If God came to earth, he had to get a feel for what it felt like to be here. Suffer. What amazes me now is some people still don’t get it. The big question on many of their minds is "Why?" Doesn’t the fact that God never answers this question sort of answer the question? We are alone so we can learn suffering and God lets us. People who think life is always supposed to be good are the ones who are most upset when it isn’t. I’m not one of them. I’m not surprised anymore. I accept the fact that it will be hard. And, there was a girl.
Annie Dillard's "Holy the Firm" got me thinking about all of this. I agreed with many of her assertions but saw a searching and confused person as well. Confused like many of us. This got me thinking that there should be no “why.” We are not supposed to question God. This isn’t because he is arrogant or quiet or dead. It is because we do not need to ask. Our answer is life. Despite my hard times, I am a happy person. I am usually a kind and loving person. I have learned that, to achieve the most happiness and love, I must risk. Suffering is a product of risk. However, so is love and joy and light and good. Knowing the odds, I risked my heart and allowed myself to fall for this girl. I needed to. It had been awhile. She burst into my life, I loved her and she taught me suffering. The first thing I wanted to teach myself about risk? Fuck risk. The real thing I learned? For some reason, I would do it again in a second. Not because I enjoyed the pain or the hurt or how she changed or didn’t want to listen anymore or…or…or. It was that I enjoyed the good so much. And, there was so much good. I still thank her to this day for that. Thank you.
I remember the day I realized this girl was going to teach me something. I had just been to my sister’s grave for the first time since her passing. She would have been 43. My sister Carrie suffered through life, at times, but not at the end. I liked visiting her but it was very difficult. It is a good spot near a tree and the road. It is the easiest grave to locate of all my Dead. Toward the end of this day, this hard and tender day, I wanted to be somewhere safe. Driving home, my jeans still had green and brown memories of her in half-circles on my knees. “Please, God…let Carrie be safe and Mom and…me.” Let me. But, the girl wouldn’t let me. Instead, my suffering was weak, selfish and unattractive. I lay there and thought for the first time, “She is going to teach me something and I’m not going to like it.” I wonder what Carrie was thinking then. I wonder. That day she lay in a cold coffin and I said goodbye, we were both unattractive and weak. So, I had paid a somber visit and, later that evening, this girl could not understand my grief. It had only been two months. All I wanted was some time to mourn and some safety and that wasn’t allowed. I felt foolish for needing that. Since then, I often look back on the misery and heartbreak this girl put on me. I look back and know that we needed each other for a time. Time has been good to me. I still thank her for the good but I also thank her for the suffering. It is mine.
Most of the time we think we'd never want to relive something terrible. We would be crazy to want loss or betrayal or embarrassment or pain or death again. However, there is this part of us that does wish we could have some moments back. We think that if we get them back, it would be different. I have moments sometimes where I get to choose again. Most of the time I choose well. Recently I had a chance. Girl and I had been apart a month and a half. I had time to get over her. To realize I was better without her. To tell myself she was better without me. I thought I was prepared. If we saw each other again, I would be ready. And, the time came. The Les Miserables tickets purchased became our ticket to relive some of these moments.
I thought I was prepared. We had spoken during our hiatus. I had heard her voice so seeing her would not be that different. Then, I saw her. In that moment, I wanted to take Jean Valjean’s brick and throw it through the nearest window and Javert can cart me away for 19 years. Maybe I’ll forget her then. But, that was fiction and France and this was real. So, I swallowed my lump and we went out together. It wasn’t supposed to be like this: it was nice. Time does heal some things. We kissed in the parking lot. I made some good choices that night as I got to do some things over and say some things I had wanted to say. I was able to see that we could probably and honestly be friends. She would no longer be “girl.” She would again have a name and be beautiful. I felt a little upside down. And, there was a vagabond.
This is where it all comes together. This is where the tears start. This is, as Dillard says, the joke of the world and I don’t see the rake. I am high from a kiss, a kiss from a woman who has taught me more about love and suffering than anyone else. But I was about to learn more. I didn’t even see him. His wheelchair made him a chameleon against the urban cityscape. But, she saw him. I kept driving. Can I have that moment back? She said, “Is there anything we can do for that guy back there?” Give him money. “Do you have a blanket or something in here?” I have jumper cables. “I really think we should do something.” I didn’t see him. Can I have the moment back? I turn the vehicle around and I am glad. The almond-sized raindrops have turned to snow like triple-action razors, cutting diagonally down at his shape. I pull around. That cannot be a man. She is crying now. Everything happens so fast. There is a brick in my throat. Jean Valjean and Jesus put it there. I wish I had his(His) bread now. This bent figure I approach is a man. A denim flap over a stubby limb is dangling beneath his chair. He is huddled and contorted as the razor snow comes at us. Can I do anything for him? “You can buy me a cup of coffee,” he says. I hear and smell alcohol. “Isn’t there a homeless shelter?” I have five-dollars. “You have a five spot? That would be nice.”
As I go to give it to him, he is reaching to shake my hand. It is firm. Holy and firm: I am in touch with the Absolute. I feel dirty. I feel homeless. I want him to drive my date home and leave me there without a leg, clutching the five. I am worthless. What have I done for him? I gave him money to die with. He can’t use Lincoln as a shield from the hurling ice. He can’t even use Jesus. Can I have this moment back? As I let go of his hand, I know him. I see his eyes and hear his drunken voice and I know him. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." I wheel him out of the wind and against a building. He now has five-dollars and a dry spot. If it is Jesus, he'll still freeze. An ambulance pulls up because someone was smarter than I am. Vagabond will make it but not because of me. Who else died tonight? We get into the car and drive away.
I want that moment back for a hundred reasons. I want it back so I am the first to see him instead of her. I want it back so neither of us will see him. I want it back so that I am the one who calls for help. I want it back because she doesn’t deserve to feel so deeply about a stranger something she never felt for me. She cannot possibly feel something so powerful about a person I did not even see. She is the cause not the cure ... Wait. Hold on. Wait. The one who taught me how cold people can be about loss, who shut me off when I needed someone, finished me off and left me wondering how quick love can stale was teaching again. Here it was: what is my pain anyway? Nothing compared to a dead man with a five in his hand. She wanted to stop and try. Her tenderness is breaking me. “…The meanest of people show more mercy than hounding and terrorist gods,” writes Annie Dillard. Suddenly, this woman was an angel. Again, I am a fool. Can I have this moment back? I want to see its purity again. Despite our wonderfully conflicted past, I need friends like her. She wept half the way home and all I could think about was how much I loved her. Because beneath all the callousness she had shown me in moments past, beat the heart of Christ. She is Love. She is Risk. She is much of what I hate but more of what I want. She is the perfect contrast of humanity. She is a teacher. Why should we care about our past? People are dying and there needs to be more good in the world. My friends are a part of that. There is good everywhere, even in suffering. So. Vagabond suffers. She suffers. I suffer. Jesus. And, I’m starting to get it.