Monday, July 7, 2014

How To Be Free

He had forgotten our kids were adopted, so when I walked downstairs to meet him for the first time, he expected me to be Asian. Black hair. Diminutive. I'd thought I caught a beat of recovery in his face, that flash of a moment where reality quietly realigns with expectation.

All I'd seen of him was a picture, one tiny square holding bulging biceps and broken teeth.

My husband calls him his friend now. He calls lots of the men from the jail "friend", because that's what becomes of humans after tears are shared, and trays of high-sodium institution food and the Good News.

Our day was already inked up and scheduled out, but he lives in a homeless shelter now, and no one should be homeless on the 4th of July.

I rolled his name around in my head while I dabbed concealer on my dark circles and wished again for a better head of hair.

If you assume this thing comes naturally to me, nothing could be further from the truth.

I wanted him to know peace here. I wanted to welcome him into our world with authenticity, refusing to style a snappier version of who we really are. I wanted to create ample space for him to feel the full lightness of his worth.

But the potato salad was store-bought and I can be shy with new people. I worried about things like dead air and imminent boredom. I didn't know yet that he hates vegetables. All of them.

He held out his hand and I lunged for his neck while he processed me as blondish and taller than him. It was settled. This was what we were doing - becoming friends and kin in a narrow strip of shade on the unfinished back patio.

"Thanks so much for coming!"

"Well, thank you for asking me."

His eyes dropped down to his second-hand lace-ups.

"You guys are pretty much my best friends. My only friends, really."

And it didn't matter at all anymore what he thought of us or our crazy kids or our messy kitchen or the store-bought red potato salad.

If I know anything at all, it's that the shortest routes to relationships are carved when everyone takes two giant steps past the fences of their comfort and toward each other. It has been worth it every time. 

He took his two giant steps and then he took some more and what he brought to my table was vulnerability and honesty. He brought fist bumps for my boys and compliments for the cook. He brought friendship for my honey, the kind that isn't fabricated.

He brought me things I never knew I lacked about sacrifice and discipline and pride in the kind of work that leaves your back aching but your soul uncaged.

Left to my own devices, I prove my foolishness in innumerable ways. I walk away from this wild love God knit and spoke and spilled and flung into the atmosphere like so much glitter.

And I miss the freedom to love beyond my own demographic.
I miss the opportunities to see the ways I align with friends I'm never supposed to have known.
I settle for low-grade fear and call it wisdom.

I can't hack the thought of what I've missed in light of a man who tells me thirty seconds after meeting me that I'm his best friend.

Charcoal wafting laughter floating windows open soda cans popping he taps his thumb on the banged-up kitchen table while he speaks and it's all so easy.

And we're free.