To a stranger she can come off as extremely tough with her in-control swagger and apparent chip on her shoulder. She’s done jail time. Alcohol is a major part of her life in that she’s either indulging or working hard to abstain. She is also a great dishwasher, loves dogs and listens to Patsy Cline. We’ve been slowly developing a friendship for nine years.
Last December she came to a Drop-In drunk and desperately sad. As I tried to guide her to a chair in the foyer, she fell, taking me with her. We landed in a heap and stayed there for the next forty-five minutes. She proceeded to open up to me in an entirely new way. Instead of giving me the bare minimum of information about herself, I learned what the swagger, the chip and the booze were covering. She had been abandoned by a person in her life who should have stayed. Her pain was palpable. Together we wept.
As hard as that conversation was, I left feeling encouraged. On that day our relationship shifted. For the first time I was allowed to catch a deeper glimpse of her true-self underneath the tough exterior. Though she’d often been present for me, allowing me to be present for her had not come easy. Being vulnerable requires a great deal of trust, especially when that trust has been routinely compromised in the past.
The hard stuff in this friend’s life just keeps on giving. We talk about it a lot. She is much more free to share her tears with me and continues to accept mine. Almost every time our visits come to an end I say, “Remember, I love you”. She usually pauses, puts her head down and says, “You too”. I noticed recently that instead of waiting to hear me say it, she now initiates. It’s not that she didn’t mean it before, it’s that her confidence has grown.
Too many people in this world experience a poverty of relationship. Building community can be slow and oftentimes hard work as evidenced in this story. Isolation and the accompanying loneliness had stripped my friend of the belief that she was lovable. Though we had seemingly little in common on the outside, when we took off our masks we came to realize that we were more alike than different. Discovering this has been and I believe will continue to be, transformative.