Boy one came home unusually chipper the other day. He had happened across someone who compulsively turned open padlocks backwards and set closed locks to zero when passing lockers. Together they had raced the halls in a mad attempt to set every lock in the school to zero. Although he spent a great deal of time bemoaning the hallway they had failed to finish, the first words out of his mouth were, “Mom, I actually met someone like me. I’m not the only one.”
I was once a woman in her early twenties, at least battling depression. Post traumatic stress syndrome would have fit too. I was haunted by nightmares that paralyzed me, drained me of energy, and left me unsettled for days. Being objective about my emotions was an idea I could grasp but not put into practice most of the time. I tried to rise above my troubles, but my downfall appeared inevitable. I felt confused, hopeless and desperately alone.
I didn’t know anyone, including myself, comfortable with mental health issues, or knowledgeable about the need for help and where to get it. I sought advice, but for years did not find anyone who understood. I remember an older woman I spoke with. That she was a woman with a lifetime of fragile mental health was unknown to me. She was respected and admired. She was old and not dead yet. That was put together in my books.
I was in the habit of testing people on small doses of me, so I poured out enough troubles to relieve the pressure. I remember at first, I was irritated, wondering if she’d even heard me. But what seemed at first a non sequitur, made a lot of sense.
“You know those stairs down the hall?” She had a bit of a southern accent. “When I stand at the top and look down, I know I’m going to fall. They’re so steep I don’t even like to think about it. Every time I can hardly move because I know am going to fall. But I stand at the top, grab the railing tight and step one stair at a time, two feet on every one. Takes me forever, but I get down. And I haven’t fallen yet.”
Lately, sadness and loneliness have sat their ample bottoms down on my chest and refused to move. Life goes on, but they are heavy and quitting tempts. Monday, I remembered the railing, two feet on every stair until I get to the bottom. Which reminded me that we are never alone. A long time ago, someone who didn’t know me or understand me, possibly accidentally, gave me really good advice. My stairs were different, but we were both afraid of going where we had to and it helped.
I picture her stairs and think. We are inadequate answers to each other’s questions, and insufficient medicine for each other’s pain. Yet out of the immense alone, what cannot be, is. In darkness for tiny seconds, we find each other’s arms and we are known. You too? Yes, me too. From imperfect and impossible rises us. We glimpse our belonging and for that moment, heaven.