|photo by sophia nahli allison via google images|
He stubbed out his cigarette and watched me approach with clear intent.
‘It’s right here,’ he said, his prison scrubs hanging like curtains on his slender frame. ‘See this . . .?’ he stretched open the side of his mouth with a finger then abruptly shut it again.
I just saw a shadow of tongue and teeth. ‘I’m not sure I know what I’m looking for Ed.’
He half-smiled and did one of those quick shy nods. ‘You don’t believe me, do you, Miss Brynne?’ He cocked his head, eyeing me now suspiciously. ‘You’re just like the rest of them, aren’t you?’
‘I don’t think you see many other staff standing outside on a chilly day, do you? I stopped to talk to you because I care and I think you can tell if you try really hard, that that’s nothing but the truth.’ I rubbed my arms up and down a bit because truthfully, it was even colder while standing still. I was deep in the North Carolina countryside, this particular prison surrounded on all sides by acres of woods and farm fields.
He studied me for a moment then must’ve decided I meant what I said because he opened his mouth again. ‘See this black spot? Right here . . . on my tooth, on my molar?’
I peered in and sure enough, following his finger, I did. I saw the black spot. ‘I do. I see it, Ed.’
He closed his mouth and nodded. Victory.
‘So what’s it doing there? What’s it about?’
‘It’s not a cavity, if that’s what you mean.’
‘I didn’t say that. I don’t know what it is, Ed.’
‘Ok. I’ll tell you. When I was a kid, about 6 or 7, I was riding my bike and I got hit by a car. In the hospital, men in black suits came to talk to my mama. They told her that I was brain dead but that a simple agreement with them could bring me back to life.’
‘Bring you back from being dead?’ I asked, careful not to shut him down.
‘Yes, ma’am. Back from the dead. But there was a catch. I had to have a chip put into my head. And they would have control over me for the rest of my life.’
‘Wow,’ I said, taking a deep breath. ‘So your mama agreed to it?’
‘Wouldn’t you if your baby was going to die?’
‘I guess so,’ I mumbled, ‘I guess so. And the black spot?’
‘That’s how they communicate with me. That’s the way they remind me of our agreement. That’s the way they remind me of who’s in control.’
* * *
Every day we meet people – people with histories, with stories, with experiences that live within their walls.
And every day we have a choice.
To tell the people around us what we believe they need to see or think or do.
Or to meet the people around us where they are.
To stand with them in their world, in their shoes, in their unique Self.
When we meet people where we are, where we want them to be, we stagnate. Like a dog in a kennel, we circle and circle and circle with nothing new to see or feel. Life is predictable and uninspired, many times even boring.
When we meet people where they are instead of where we are, we embark on new adventures, we expand ourselves, we become something we could not be on our own. The people around us become treasure chests filled with riches and we grow in our own richness because of them.
* * *
I put my hands over my chest and lowered my head. I took a deep breath. ‘And you couldn’t tell anyone because they would think you were crazy.’
He nodded. Slowly. Silently. His feet now starting to shift.
‘And they talk to you all the time, these men, trying to make you do things even when you don’t want to?’
‘Well, not as much now that I am in prison, but before, yes. It was a lot. Almost every day.’
‘Wow. You have been through a lot, haven’t you, Ed?' I paused. 'I can’t even imagine how much you have held inside and to yourself all these years. That’s gotta be exhausting. You must have felt so alone. For so very long. Maybe even still now.’
And when I said the last words, his eyes filled up with tears.
‘I get it.’ I said nodding. ‘I get it. And I am so very sorry, Ed.’
It was then that the tears finally began to fall and before long, he was sobbing. A great big man who had committed all sorts of crimes, a man who was in prison for most of his adult life, sobbing his heart out like a little boy with a deeply broken heart. All I could do was keep clutching my own heart.
‘You know, you’re the first person other than my mama that’s ever believed me.’
‘I am?’ I shook my head. ‘I am so sorry, Ed.’ And I was.
‘But I’m not,’ he said, now collecting himself, ‘because you’re also the first person I’ve ever shared my tears with. Except my mama. And that there, that means a lot to me.’
I smiled. ‘I’m glad. I’m really glad. That means a lot to me, too.’
‘Have a nice day, Miss Brynne. Thanks for listening. Thanks for talking.’
‘You too, Ed,’ I said. ‘And thank you. Thanks for sharing.’ And as I walked inside I realized I wasn't cold anymore. I was warm. I had struck gold.
* * *
Real or imagined doesn’t make a difference. All of the stories of those around us and within us, matter. They matter because they define us. They teach us what we feel and how we perceive, and give us some of the most authentic clues to understanding our deeper Selves.
When we listen, truly listen, and honor what it is that we hear, we free not only ourselves, but we free the storyteller, too.
For the heart is delicate and rarely speaks unless it is first, invited.
* * *
Do you want to make the world a better place?
Do you want to be a part of healing the hurt?
Listen with your heart.
And treat whatever it is that you hear,
as if it were gold.
Because it is.