D. and C. came walking down the middle of 16th, holding hands. “You two are so cute!” I said and they abruptly let go of each other. As they got closer, I noticed they had on matching green and purple outfits. “Yes,” D. said, “I wait until C. gets dressed and then I get dressed. No contrasting colors–it’s in the contract…And no polka dots!” The smart couple with the French bulldog approached. They told us their dog Maggie is a rescue dog–a work in progress. “Some of the time, she is sweet, and other times she is very unpredictable.” At that very moment, Maggie began vomiting yellow bile onto the road in front of the bench. “Case in point,” I chuckled. Both the man and the woman were dressed in black–she had on a striped shirt and stylish black nerd glasses. Very French, just get a baguette to complete the look. They carried on, and another woman stopped and told us about her 12 year old son who had had an allergic reaction to a medication, and had ended up with a rigor mortis condition of the nerves, still unable to move after 3 months. C. gave her a big hug, and I know she walked away feeling less burdened.
This morning, the word “comfort” presented itself to me when I woke up, so I flipped open my tattered Webster’s dictionary and read that comfort comes from the Latin word confortare, to strengthen much. It’s related to words like fortify and fortitude. I never associated comfort with strength before. When we give comfort to others, we’re not providing something soft and ephemeral, we are building them up, reaching out like a flying buttress to help hold up the walls of a Gothic cathedral. We all need comfort, and the problem with our culture right now is that we are so isolated from one another by technology that we don’t even know what the other is going through, and thus are unable to provide each other this vital support. If D. and C. had not lingered at the bench, this exchange wouldn’t have taken place. How do we create more spaces in our communities (and I’m not talking about facebook) where people can linger long enough to get to this point of mutual vulnerability and healing presence?
I glanced down at the word comforter in my dictionary and here are my favorite definitions:
1. One that gives comfort. 2. The Holy Spirit. 3. A long, narrow, knitted woolen scarf or muffler. I really couldn’t believe that last one…
It was dark when I quit my knit for the night. D. came out on the porch and offered me a ride home but I said no, and almost called him “Dad.” Then my friend offered me a ride too, but I was too stubborn. I had many second thoughts as I walked down unlit and overgrown Garden Street, through a seedy college neighborhood, and my imagination went wild. I grasped my cellphone ready to dial 9-1-1, and apologized to my guardian angel for making him work overtime again. Note to self: It’s not staying light until 10:30 anymore, and it’s time to adjust my knitting schedule.