I embraced a stranger today. I held her, my arms surrounding her with fullness, depth, and intention.
Then I whispered the words we both needed to hear. “You are not alone.” It all started by looking up and slowing down. I was sitting in my car, catching my breath after an intense workout, and then I noticed a scene I have become so familiar with over the last few years. A mother walking with her child around an open park, a firm grasp on his hand, her eyes somewhat distant. He jumped and hummed, and flapped his arms. She tried to hold keep hold of his hand – an attempt to corral and settle him like you would a toddler, but the strength of his eight-year-old frame was no longer able to be fully restrained.
I knew in under 5 seconds of looking on that this sweet boy, full of energy and spontaneity had autism.
I saw myself in her, and far more than a glimpse of my own son. I hesitated for a moment, debating whether or not to invade her space, but something in me just knew that it was worth the risk. I approached gently, looking her in the eyes, and we spoke on the surface at first about the diagnosis and all the life changes that accompany it. But it wasn’t long before tears began to weld. We shared sentiments on feeling blindsided, castrated from society, the cycles of grief, the silent struggling with depression, and thoughts of ending it all. She went on: talking about how she has been questioning God to no avail, crying out with desperation, feeling guilty, feeling hopeless, and feeling far away from everything and everyone. She shared her immense anxiety and exhaustion from the sleepless nights, screaming meltdowns and the struggle with everyday activities like car rides, grocery runs, playgrounds, shopping malls, birthday parties – all of these “normal things” have now become insurmountable.
I nodded and cried, and nodded some more. In that moment, solutions weren’t necessary, words weren’t necessary, just being there, just standing there with her…Listening, making space for her to get it out, then embracing. Followed by a soft whisper to say. “I get it, and I am here with you.” We exchanged numbers and empathies, and said our goodbyes.
And in just one moment I remembered my Why.
Why we must walk through dark places and deep valleys. Why we must put phones down and pick our heads up. Why we must push past social discomforts, and befriend other humans who share our breathing room. Because of moments like this. This is my Why.