So you’re coming to Winnipeg? Would you have time to get together while you’re here? I don’t live far from the city…
So came a message from a reader of this blog and a fellow pilgrim on the way. And so came a delightful evening last week at a restaurant not far from the university where I was spending the week.
We sit and we talk and we listen. Strangers who, in the strange alchemy of providence, are not really strangers at all. Such remarkable things can come out of sitting, talking listening…
We unwind the stories that have formed and shaped us. His is a bit longer and there is more pain.
[Or at least different pain? How does one quantify such things? The idea itself seems stupid, misguided, useless… ]
But, yes, there is pain. An unhappy marriage, periods of deep sadness and struggle, breakdown, recovery, and the gradual process of sifting through the wreckage, restoring, recovering, rebuilding, reshaping a life, a family, a future.
And the discovery of grace. Yes, grace. The discovery of a community of to hold all this pain gently, to lift up, to refuse easy judgment. To walk forward together. To keep stubbornly pointing toward the Man of Sorrows, the Friend of Sinners, the Lover of our Souls… To train us in the discipline of joy, so much deeper and more durable than happiness…
It is a long meandering conversation. Easy, unforced, natural. Two, three, four cups of coffee… People come and go from the restaurant… The waiter hovers. “Do you need anything else…?” No, no, we’re fine. Just fine.
A few hours pass. Whatever turns the conversation takes, all roads eventually circle back to God, as I suppose they must.
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night—I have trouble sleeping. Sometimes a visitor comes to see me. He has darker skin, a Mediterranean look to him. We talk, he and I. In the early morning hours. Sometimes we don’t say anything. Lately, I just look into his eyes and I see eternity there.”
“Wow,” I say, unimaginatively. “That’s an incredible image.”
“I used to dread going to bed at night, the sleep that wouldn’t come. But now I look forward to it. I look forward to our nighttime visits.”
It’s getting dark in Winnipeg, probably time to think about heading back.
He drops me off at the university and I am left to reflect upon a remarkable evening, a remarkable conversation. What a gift, to meet strangers who are not really strangers at all. What a gift to be entrusted with the story of another human being—another treasured soul, stumbling persistently after grace. How incredible, the ways that God meets us along the way.
Life goes on, as it is so prone to doing. I finish the week, fly home, business as usual…
But I can’t stop thinking about the night visitor.
I do not envy my new friend his story, for who would wish for pain? Who would choose to grope around in the uncertain dark for long seasons? Who would want to navigate another’s threads of sorrow, the many ways in which we wound and are wounded by others? And narratives are such intensely personal things anyway—it’s silly to even think about wanting that of another. We each walk our own road…
But I do envy him his night visitor. I would like to look into those eyes, in the dead of the dark cold night. I would like to be held by those eyes. To gaze deeply into eternity. To have eternity look back, and to read me in return.