I dreamt again the other night. In this dream, I was in a town I did not know, visiting a family or a group of people I knew only vaguely. A baby had just been saved from danger — there was a rooftop, perhaps a fire, and harrowing acts of bravery — the details were quite vivid in my dream. The details, however, are nevertheless unimportant. What is important is the man who saved the baby.
He was, of course, considered a hero, and everyone around him was filled with gratitude. Praise for him was on everyone’s lips. He was a minister, not originally from the town, having only just recently arrived.
When I saw him, he was alone in a room in the house I was visiting, seated at a table. Instead of a confident hero, the man I saw was shaking all over with pain. On his face, I could see great anguish.
I went to him, touched his shoulder gently, and asked if I could help him. He looked up at me with such distress in his eyes and huddled there, shivering. He couldn’t speak. He wanted to. Fumbling for a pencil, he managed to grab one from his pocket and, grasping it roughly, scribbled on a piece of paper,
“Sometimes the unfamiliar life…”
He stopped writing, at a loss even for words to write a sentence. I knew what he meant, though. I looked into his eyes and knew. Sometimes, the unfamiliar life is a way to hide from pain. It allows one to be cut off and yet still a part of the world; it enables one to isolate the demons warring in one’s heart and hide them from the outside. He was no longer unfamiliar; hence the pain began to grow. It would not stop.
Problem is, isolation does not work. Sooner or later, we need to become familiar. With someone. We can’t bear pain alone.
Instincts took over, and I found myself stripping. This wasn’t sexual. I had no words that could comfort him; I had only myself. Myself to bare, myself to be made familiar. Once unclothed, I moved in and undid his shirt, maneuvering it off his clenched and shivering body. What I saw was a body riddled with scars and wounds that had healed horribly, leaving great rifts and flaps of flesh that in their own hideousness, seemed to cause him searing and excruciating pain.
Wrapping my arms gently but closely around him, I touched his flesh against mine, bringing our bodies into a warm embrace, chest to chest, stomach to stomach, arm to arm. His head, I cradled under my chin, stroking his unkempt hair softly.
I did not know the source of his pain. I only knew that he was hurting. In his life of hiding in unfamiliar things, It felt right to let him be as familiar as he could be with me. I don’t know why it felt right to do this, but it did.
We sat there a long time, resting, holding, embracing. As his shivering began to subside, I awoke.
No, this story was not about the baby who was saved; it was about the man.