i sort of hit a wall last week. It’s the feeling that while the story I get invited to tell is impressive to some, the story that i actually live is not. i feel lately like i live a story about a guy who rides on airplanes and in rental cars and hopes the pillow is comfortable in the hotel room. The smiling irony in the whole thing is that I get invited to tell people about community but then that turns out to be something I don’t really have in my own life. i have access to it but community is something you have to choose.
So last week i started to feel the weight of too many airports and too much time away from home. But i was already committed to going to an event. In fairness, this event was a gathering that i was honored to be part of and it would mean the chance to catch up with friends. But there would also be a lot of folks i didn’t know, which meant there would be a lot of first day of school moments where you answer the “what do you do?” question and hope that people like you. (These moments are not fun for introverts, especially tired introverts who wish they were at home.)
But instead of impressive people attempting to impress each other, i found a group of people willing to be human, willing to be honest and vulnerable in admitting the broken parts of their stories. There were confessions of mistakes and questions and doubts. There were grown men with tears in their eyes, willing to go there in front of people they didn’t know.
There was a man with cancer in his body and with his wife at his side, he spoke of the pain of the last year, the fear and embarrassment of the seizures that find him now. He spoke of the kindness of his friends, the miracle of the thing we call community. He spoke with love for his five year-old daughter and there were questions that did not require words.
We were invited to pray for him, to put our hands to his body and ask God to heal him. i have no idea how that works, why God fixes some people and lets others die. i don’t write much about faith because i feel like almost all of the words have been abused. I’ve become embarrassed by most things called “Christian” but i still believe in a God who loves people. Anyway, we were invited to pray and I knew i had to go. i made my way close to him, to where i could reach through the crowd to touch his right arm. Different people prayed out loud and i don’t remember the words but I remember crying and i remember the feeling of wanting this man to be okay.
i walked back to my chair, tears falling down my face but without shame. And it struck me that this moment had happened inside a gathering that I had feared might be a shallow celebration of folks with lots of answers. Instead, the moment that moved me most was the one without answers. It was a group of us meeting our friend in his enormous question. i go to so many things where it’s experts and leaders and public speaker people. There is a strange circuit of people that the world calls important.
This is not a “Come to Jesus” blog. It is simply a confession that with all that I’ve seen in the last few years, all the events I’ve been invited to and all the people that I’ve met, I am less and less impressed by “impressive” things or people who are presented as having lots of answers. i am impressed by people who are honest and kind. i am inspired by moments of vulnerability, moments of confession and compassion, moments where someone makes it clear that they are a person in need of other people and someone else makes it clear that the first person is not alone.
We’ve done some winning in the last few years. There have been some bright moments and surprising open doors. MTV and USA Today and Rolling Stone. CBS News. None of it meant as much to me as that moment praying for that man, when crying was the most appropriate response, because there are tragedies in this life that deserve our tears. I will not forget the privilege of standing in the small sea of strangers, reaching into sickness and mystery and hoping God might be real and hoping that he loves His children.
Be loved. Be known. Love people and know people. Be so brave as to raise a hand for help when you need it. Make friends and make sure they know they matter. Be loyal to them and fight for them. Remind them what’s true and invite them to do the same when you forget. If you do some losing or you walk with someone else in their defeat, live with dignity and grace. It is a middle finger to the darkness.
In the event we live to be old, i doubt our last days will find us aching for success or achievements. I doubt we’ll ask for bigger names or internet followers or virtual friends. If influence comes then let it come but it was never the point of the story. We will look back and smile at the moments that were real, the people who knew us and the people that we knew, the relationships and conversations, the days we walked together, the story that we told. We will consider the moments when we were allowed to show our beauty and our mess and the miracle moments when we were embraced by people who loved us even at our worst. And they loved us not for any sort of fame but simply because our stories had joined somehow and that miracle of friendship had taken place.
An hour after the prayer, it was time to say goodbye. The man, who I now consider a friend, told me that on his darkest nights, he wears a TWLOHA shirt to bed. He said he does this to remember that he’s loved.
Peace to you tonight.
PS: “Friendship is a dimishing of distance between people.” – Keith Richards