Never Have I Ever

Have you ever been around people who bring out the best in you?

I don’t mean just anyone you like. I like some people. I have friends with whom I enjoy spending time. They complement me in an additive way while not quite reaching the fundamental me. They bring things into my life that are interesting; their diverse personalities, their varied spectrum of interests, even their children and spouses, who are also usually kind and fun people. But I cannot count among any of my current friends the kind that reach the core of me, my values and loves, and make that deeper connection that allows me to feel thoroughly understood.

Until now.

Dear Ghost, I wrote a post on my way to my epic Pacific Northwest journey which you of course read over my shoulder. In that post, which I have kept hidden from all eyes but yours, I lamented and waffled and feared and shook. I talked about how I just wanted a meaningful hug from someone so badly. I worried about my new job and moving to a place without friends. I discussed how I understand why people take their own lives. I don’t intend to do so, but I can see how it happens.

In that post, I debated making contact on this trip with people I have never met and one I only knew vaguely from 33 years ago in high school. I worried about my aptitude for fitting in. I anticipated disappointment and embarrassment. I almost canned the meeting, and were it not for a burning curiosity and a tiny bit of infatuation, I might have chucked the idea completely and gone home early.

My relationship with M was a closed one. Closed off from the world, even closed off from one another. We didn’t share feelings, ideas, musical tastes, or, in the end, even food or mealtimes. My natural tendency toward a social lifestyle, if not downright gregariousness, was stunted to the point that with few exceptions I am afraid to meet people and even less inclined to give them anything of myself. M was not fundamentally an unkind person, but he was open about his dislike for many of the things I love. Going out with people was frowned upon. I stopped seeing live music. I didn’t snowboard regularly anymore. Fairly early on, the well from which I drew people who would have done those things with me dried up, and the prospect of always doing them alone kept me indoors. My answer, my coping mechanism, was total escapism.

So I somewhat reluctantly put myself out there on this evening in Washington state, fully expecting some level of rejection and misunderstanding. Instead I was richly rewarded for my tiny effort with connections with some of the kindest and most beautiful souls I’ve ever met. Not additive connections, mind you. Fundamental, pure, profound connections. The kind I hope will last for a lifetime. What an incredible bunch of people.

So I met S, who is someone I vaguely knew from long ago, in a busy place with a hundred of his closest friends and a loud but incredible band, and he wasn’t distracted. He looked me in the eyes and gave me the second best hug I’ve ever had in my life. This person I barely know took the time, even if it was a matter of minutes, and made me feel like the only person in the room. He instantly made me feel welcome and safe.

The next day I was invited to spend time at his house. We played a game, he and another friend and I. Just sat on the floor and played a sweet little card game and talked and listened to music. In all of the raging chaos that has been my life for the past year, with all of the apathy and the pain and the chronic engagement of my fight-or-flight response, these few hours of play with kind and funny people who seemed to get me was like a glass of cool water in the desert.

The woman who was with us during that time, C, is tall and willowy, and beautiful inside and out. She spoke gently and was fully open-minded and present in her manner, genuine, and utterly non-judgmental. This woman makes me want to be a better person, to try harder to improve myself and my outlook on life. The breeze of unconditional welcome blew through me again, sweeping away the cobwebs of doubt and self-reproach.

And this guy, this man S, he has been through so much in his life in the last few years, so much heart-rending and agony, and he takes the time while we’re sitting there to help me try to cope with my move, with my fears and the pain of my split with M. He offers advice and ideas for solace. He held my feelings, the hurts that have been gnawing at the core of me, and soothed them with his manifest understanding of them. He did all of this for someone who is practically a stranger, totally out of the goodness of his heart.

To say that my reception in the PNW was warm is the understatement of a lifetime. I’m starting to look forward to this move. I feel optimism and hope for more friendships like these. I also feel less alone. I’m not moving to the same city as these folks, but I’m a matter of half a day away, and the simple proximity of kindness and generosity is enough to buoy my spirits and change my outlook for the future.

The young woman and I rode back to the airport together in my car, and during that trip more insightful and perceptive conversation was shared. Before we left we shared a breakfast together that S cooked for us, and then, dear Ghost, as we were leaving, he gave me the number one best hug I’ve ever had in my life.

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