Iconsider myself a lucky man. I am blessed with a handful of friends who are wise and warm and generous. Men and women, young and old, who listen deeply when I speak in earnest of things that are important to me – like matters of the heart or questions from the soul.
I am lucky because friends like these are truly rare, and I know it. Try carrying a burden – some ancient wound or recent hurt – and carrying it alone. Try containing your deepest thoughts and feelings, for years on end, in the absence of another human being who is willing or able to meet you half way.
That’s how it is for many people who, for want of heartfelt company, live among us silently in a kind of daily exile.
A chosen solitude is a blissful thing; an enforced and indefinite solitude, among all but the most stoic, imprisons the spirit, blights esteem and diminishes the vibrant self.
The fact that most of us live in close proximity is especially ironic. How like the ancient mariner to be thirsty in a sea of such immensity: water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
Who really listens? Who can go the distance? Who has the imaginative capacity, the requisite reserves of empathy and wisdom, the ready language and perspective, the courage and the patience, let alone the time required to recognise another person in the moment of their deepest need?
On the night before his crucifixion, Christ gathered with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the morning Christ was to be nailed to a wooden cross and left to hang until dead.
His anguish was immense; his sweat, we are told (Luke 22: 43-44), “fell to the ground like great drops of blood”.
Christ prayed to God and was visited by an angel. The angel, however, came not to save Christ but to offer instead solace and strength.
The angel departed and Christ went in search of his disciples. He found them asleep. Three times he had to wake his friends, but to no avail. The burden of the long, dark night was his and his alone.
In my world, angels take a human form. Angels are the people awake to the struggle of others and alive, in their modest and measured way, to life’s painful mystery.
In my world, angels know that honest greetings and acts of generosity sow seeds of hope and confidence.
In my world, angels speak in the common vernacular and appear as faces in the crowd.
Blessed with the capacity to elicit simple truths, angels encounter strangers and invariably depart as mates. They travel among us quietly and when in doubt, they give.
In my world, the angel might be you.
First published in The Sunday Age, 24 January 2016
Image: Shirley Bateman, Berlin 2008