Like most of the people on the planet, my eyes and thoughts have been focused on events in Washington over the last few days, and I’ve found it hard to look away.
To be frank, I’ve found the bombast and bluster and breathtaking dishonesty stifling.
But seeing banners unfurl with the call to #buildbridgesnotwalls has been like breathing again.
Sharing stories is one of the best ways of building bridges I know. As I’ve written before, stories can stop us from feeling alone, remind us that we’re part of something bigger, give us a sense of our shared humanity. They can forge connection, expand horizons, deepen empathy and dissolve division.
So, in that spirit, I want to tell a very short story of something I watched unfold at my church on a Sunday morning a few months ago.
It’s a story from the shadows, short and bitter and sweet.
A man I'll call Pete came into our church a little while ago. I didn’t notice him until I heard shouting and looked up to see him – behind the glass doors of the entrance hall – raising angry arms and voice to a member of the welcome team.
He was incoherent and distressed. Slowly but deliberately a number of men rose from their seats and walked over as one to give support.
My husband was one of them. Through the glass, I watched his open, generous body language as he calmed Pete and reassured him, shook his hand and made him coffee. I saw Pete pointing upwards and staggering backwards, and heard him shout again. But he quietened; the group of men stood and talked, and peace returned.
At the end of the service I went to find my husband, who had stayed out in the entrance hall. Pete was drunk; few of his words made any sense, and the stench of urine was strong and stale and sour. He shook my husband’s hand, and went falteringly out of the church, helped by a friend who had come for him.
My husband told me that he is an ex-soldier who has been battling drink and wants to stop, but has so far been unable. He told me that they talked about the drink and the army and the pain and all the while he kept repeating the same sentence:
“There’s only one man I love.”
And each time, he pointed upwards.
Pete is a man of sorrows. He’s despised and rejected by many who pass him by on the city streets. He is well acquainted with grief.
He’s also a man in love.
The ground is holy. I take off my shoes.