My husband and I just returned from an unforgettable trip to Ireland in celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary. Trips like this are a memory overload, and soon after leaving the days of touring behind, all the landscapes and castles and fascinating history facts blend together. I’ll take time to make memory book on Shutterfly or something in an attempt to separate and cement these precious memories. I’ll lay my Shutterfly book on the coffee table and it will likely not be interesting to many people except Dustin and me, and that’s okay. It’s the memories that are the real souvenirs, and these memories are ours.
The Irish people were kind and generous, and I think I enjoyed interacting with them as much as I enjoyed seeing famous vistas or landmarks. After recently reading books by Greg Boyd, one in particular called Present Perfect, I’ve been trying to remain aware of the love of God in the present moment. In extension of this, I’ve been trying to remain aware of the inherent beauty and worth of each individual I interact with and love them each in light of their worth within God’s love. It was fun to really see people on this trip, really look them in the eye, really smile genuinely, really listen.
Within the blur of memories that come with a week of jam-packed tours, talks, and tickets, there was one interaction I will have no trouble remembering. Dustin and I had just wrapped up our second day in Cork and were waiting at St. Patrick’s Quay to board a bus to Dublin. We had about 25 minutes and set down our bags when Dustin mentioned he saw a young man as we had walked along the sidewalk of the bridge we were on, and that the young man seemed to be crying. He confided he wished he knew how to approach the young man but didn’t. I felt kinda lame that after all my insightful spiritual “seeing” people on this trip, I totally didn’t notice this kid. Good thing my sweet man was doing the seeing for both of us. I asked my hubby to point him out. Sure enough, a young man, maybe 18 or 19, sat 50 ft. or so down the sidewalk. He had a black hoodie pulled around his curly mop of hair. His face was wet, red, and blotchy. He alternated looking out at the river, putting his hands over his face, and wiping his face. Now, lest I make myself out to be some sort of saint in this story, I must confess now that my first comment back to my husband was, “Maybe he’s high.” Ah, judgment, how you like to jump the gun.
But we were concerned for the kid. I joked with my husband and said, “I’m going to do reconnaissance,” as I walked down the sidewalk. I walked one direction past the kid, turned and observed. Yep. Real tears. I have cried enough tears to know and cried enough in awkward public places to also know not much besides grief or trauma could cause anguish like that. My heart was immediately with him.
I approached him and bent down. “Are you okay, honey?”
He shook his head. Man, just writing this, I’m thinking how brave he was! He could’ve austerely wiped his eyes and pretended. He could’ve acted tough to the American tourist twice his age. But, wow, he had the courage to open up to me!
“I missed my bus.”
“You missed your bus?” Okay. My mind went into problem-solving mode. Does he need money? Help? What?
“Yeah,” he said, “And my parent died.”
A familiar heaviness grabbed my heart. “Your parents died?”
“No, no. One parent. My mom. My mom died. I just found out. And I missed my bus so now I have to wait for the 5:00.”
You know, this intermingling of sorrow and joy we all endure on our journey to eternity is so profound I almost don’t have words for it. Really. I’m having a hard time continuing as I recall this moment. I’d just been having a fun, goofy rainy day with my husband, kissing the Blarney Stone and riding a double decker bus. And at the same time, this young man had lost his mother and was stuck after missing his bus back home. I’ve thought before how surreal it is to me that the moment my son Elliot died in my arms, people were out having dinner or watching TV or driving or laughing. How could people do those things while my little boy was dying? Of course I know that’s a ridiculous line of thinking, but those of you who’ve experienced a life-altering loss or trauma probably know what I mean. It’s hard to accept that an event which changes our universe forever did not, in fact, change the universe.
I sat down by this brokenhearted young man. “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” I asked permission to hug him. He nodded. So I put one arm around him and used my other hand to rub his back. It was intimate, but it was okay. I asked, “What happened?”
I learned my young friend was named Jordan. His mom had had cancer and had been in the hospital. He lived in a different city going to school.
“I was meant to go up there earlier today but I stayed to finish some school stuff.” His teeth clenched and heaves began wracking his body as he cried out to me, “I should’ve been there!” He’d last seen her a week prior.
Oh, sweet Jordan. The agonizing regret I know so well. If I had been there, done more, stayed, paid better attention, should have, should have, should have. I know. I told Jordan I’d lost a son, and that I understood the shock and incomprehensible pain and all those self-blaming thoughts. I understood, and I also knew there was nothing I could say to make him feel better.
I asked a few more questions and listened as he spoke. His mom’s name was Brenda. She was a chef. When I asked about his dad, Jordan simply said, “He left.” I asked if there were siblings or other family somewhere. He told me he thinks he has some brothers somewhere but he doesn’t know them. It was just him and his mom. Like most of us, I didn’t know what else to say. This boy had lost the one family member he had in life! What else was there to say?
So mostly I just sat with him, letting him cry, crying with him, rubbing his back and saying, “I’m so sorry honey.” I cried for his loss and the crappy way it happened. I cried because it was a trigger sitting with him and opening my heart to the pain of another human being’s trauma and loss. Everything beautiful in Ireland had made me ache more than I can say for my Elliot because all things beautiful remind me of him. It hurt to sit there with Jordan! And yet it was perhaps one of the most holy experiences of my life.
After sitting with him for ten minutes or so, one arm around him, the other hand rubbing his shoulder and back, I tried to gauge if I was making him uncomfortable. I wondered if maybe he was thinking, “Okay lady, thanks, but this is getting weird.”
But as soon as I wondered, Jordan suddenly angled toward me and put both his arms around me. Friends, he grabbed on tight in the familiar way you would with your own mom or dad or sibling or best friend when you needed a serious hug. He clutched my clothes and wept into my shoulder, all his precious snot and tears pouring onto my sweatshirt. I loved that boy very much in that moment. In any other context, I’d bet Jordan is like any ordinary young adult and he and I would barely notice each other on a sidewalk, separated as we are by age and gender and nationality. In that moment though, I felt was I was just holding a boy who missed his mother and who just needed a mom to hug. I think I also needed a son to comfort. A boy without his mother and a mother without her son, embracing there on the River Lee. Thank you, Jordan, for entrusting me with such a sacred space. I felt Elliot there.
Jordan released his tight hug and I sat with him for a few more minutes until my bus started to board. I got his number in hopes of checking in on him. I told him I’d pray for him and encouraged him to grab on to someone in his life to share this burden of loss with. It didn’t feel like nearly enough.
What will coming days and weeks and months hold for Jordan? I wish I knew. I haven’t received responses to the texts I’ve sent him, so maybe I’m doing international text wrong or the number is off or maybe he would rather forget our interaction. In any case, he’s here in my heart and prayers. Maybe you’ll say a prayer for him too.
I had so much stinkin’ fun on this trip to Ireland, and I also cried much. Joy hovers at the fringes of sorrow in my heart. Feeling one almost always leads to feeling the other. I’m trying not to overthink that but accept how it is for me is often how it was for Jesus: sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Jesus has shown me lately that I, like Jordan, am quite loved by Christ in my grief. I am loved when I’m laughing, making memories with the man I married. I am loved when I am in a hole of trauma that makes me unable to see anything but the hurt. I am loved when I believe and so loved when I doubt. Jordan’s tears that day were very beautiful to Jesus. Blessed are you who mourn.
I’m glad I met you, Jordan. I’m so sorry for this sorrow in your life. You should not have lost your mom way before her time. Thank you for the beautiful honor of comforting you. In this way, Jesus reclaims the wrongness of the deaths of our loved ones and uses our broken hearts to do something lovely. I’m thankful for a few minutes I was able to hold you, another mama’s little boy, since I cannot hold my own little boy anymore.
And of all the beauty there was to experience in my holiday away, you, Jordan, were the most beautiful thing.