She was slow to rise from the table. I wanted to tell her something so I paced my movements to match. The others, a small group of eight, moved determinedly, gathering notebooks and purses, heading out quickly to all the things they had left undone in order to be there. I had worked my way around the end of the long oval table and reached her just as she turned her back to finally move toward the door. I felt clumsy and a bit afraid, but propelled by the heavy hand at my back, the “better” voice in me, I pushed the words out - “I wanted to tell you something” I said. They were the only words I could find. But she was the first person I had ever found who had more shame than me. It was compelling.
She turned immediately, as if she had been waiting for something, something else to happen that night. Her slight body eagerly sank back to her chair and she leaned her face towards me with unmistakable anticipation. A face that made me think of that “American” purity of beauty that women like Sissy Spacek possess, but ravaged by the relentless plight of fear and shame and despair. Each wrinkle, deep or shallow, carrying a night or day or hour of terror. Her pale blue eyes somehow still bright and alive above the soft pouches of a lifetime of tears.
In that second before I spoke again, like an unexpected wind that hits your face when you round the bend from a sheltered path, I was struck by the beauty of pain. How it chips away at us. How it seemingly diminishes us as it scars us, robs of us faith and joy. How it brings the enormity of life down to within a fearful inch in front of us, crushing us with it's relentless pressure. But when you look closely enough, through a refocused lens, you can see it. You can see the result of that crushing pressure. You can see a different spectrum of light. One not within the sphere of our usual vision, but like a new species of diamond it takes your breath for an instant.
I wanted to hold her, to kiss her soft weathered cheek. I wanted to brush it all away for her as we who suffer are wont to do when we find our kin. I wanted to renew the lost years and return her to the place where she began so that the story could be different. But instead, I leaned my own tired face towards hers and I said “I never thought I deserved anything but pain. I thought I was put here to suffer, to be punished.” I said those words because they are true and because I could see they were true for her too. She gasped and smiled and in a conspiritorial whisper said “Me too! Only pain!” Like two little girls in the corner of the playground, confessing the secret darkness of their lives. And then I whispered back, “But it gets better. I'm learning a new way. I've found help and things are starting to change.” As if with a hand reaching into my pocket, I opened a tattered cloth to reveal this treasure to her. She began to pull back, to shutter the little light in her eyes. It is so hard to believe, when your life has known this kind of pain from it's very beginning, that there is a way out. You shelter yourself from this truth as if it were a lie that can hurt you even more. She turned her face to the side and said, with the tiny bit of air left in her lungs, “ Yes, something, I have to do something.” And she rose and left the room.
I'll be there next week. And in truth, because I want the door to open more for me. I want to be warm. I'm ready and I'm walking in this direction no matter how familiar the “other” voice. I have finally given so much of me away, I am emptied to an echo. The only action left to me is to be filled with something else. It took a lifetime. All of my 63 years. She - is almost empty. So yes, I'll be there, on the other side of the table – across from her pale blue eyes.