human closeness.

The Texas heat left me glistening under the shallow ceilings of a concert venue created from the remnants of an old church in Austin. The place had been divided up inexplicably into several different rooms and it was easy to lose your bearings or get lost. The walls were covered in colorful artwork that was beautifully fascinating but made the space feel even smaller than it was.  A band was playing. The backdrop of the stage was a chromatic display of colored lights shining through oil and water which created a kaleidoscopic pattern that seemed to complement the bands obscure music. The music was mostly just background brain noise for me at this point in the day. I was distracted by conversation, people-watching, and the many sights of this unique place which I found myself in. It was near midnight on a March night where we had spent all day exploring several different music venues throughout Austin, listening to bands I had never heard of but quickly loved, dancing, talking, hugging, sweating, and dancing some more. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute; I wanted more than anything to just keep going but I could feel my body’s need for rest seeping into my body and moving my limbs felt a little more difficult. The days before were spent non-stop traveling and moving and going and it had left me feeling exhausted, but in a very satisfying way, like I had been living so fully that I had used up all of my bodies resources in the process. I could feel the activities of the day wearing on my body in the form of a subtle ache in my legs. I felt as though today was the length of three normal days; my memories of this morning seemed a week prior.

It suddenly all became too much. I looked around for an exit to take a breath of fresh air. After wandering through a myriad of hallways and coming up only to dead ends, I ran into my good friend, arguably the best of friends: Patrick. I was surprised to see him because our group had gotten split up in the convoluted space, with some people in one room talking to each other, some people starting conversations with new people they had just met, and some people outside in an eclectic looking garden area with a selection of random outdoor furniture painted all different colors. I looked up at him and said that I just needed a moment of quiet outside so that I could breathe. He had ran into me in passing and I expected him to continue walking the other direction, but he said “Yes. Me too. Let’s go outside.”

We walked to one of our group’s cars that we had made the long drive in. There was evidence that the car had been lived out of for the past few days, but the silence that I knew was awaiting inside was appealing to me. I sat in the driver’s seat and Patrick sat in the passenger seat next to me and both looked out into the dark night. We were both silent for the longest time, not in a painful way but in the way that suggested we had mentally communicated our simultaneous need for this time to simply process the events that had taken place earlier in the day. After a long period of silence, I was already feeling better. Leaving the sounds and sights of the venue and entering the dark and silent night was exactly what my overstimulated brain needed. More than that though was the comfort I found in the presence of another human in that moment, sitting in silence in a dirty car in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. This moment refueled me. It nourished my tired brain. I explained to Patrick that I hadn’t expected feeling so drained during this trip but as I compiled mentally the events that has ensued the past few days, I realized that it made complete sense to be tired right now but it disappointed me at the same time. I wanted to keep the energy that I had pulled from each show, each conversation with my friends, each new place I had seen.

It is impossible to sustain that level of energy. This small moment reminded me of an often underutilized resource that most everyone has access to: other humans. I realized how much I need other people,  people that are accepting of all you are as a person, someone whom you can be truly vulnerable with. This moment of human closeness had such an immense positive impact on my physical and mental wellbeing that it felt like a wave of calmness covered my anxious mind. I sifted through many of my best and worst moments in life. I brought to mind embracing my closest friends and family members in the light of my successes or defeats, dancing under the lights of new cities with my best friends, even running through my backyard as a child with my sisters. Although solitude is endlessly valuable, the experience of struggling in the presence of another human is essential, we are wired for this kind of inextricable human connection.

This moment grounded me. As I sat next to another living, breathing person, a person that I valued and loved, I held on to every detail of the moment as it was happening. I wanted to hold onto this moment so that I could refer to it later, when I was alone. My friend, Patrick remained a solid and grounding force throughout the rest of that trip and continues to be in my life, even in moments for me that are truly challenging and painful but also for the beautiful moments as well.

After returning home from that trip, I found myself feeling melancholy. The sadness of returning to school and work combined with the let down of ending an incredible and life-changing trip left me depressed. I was a social work intern for a hospice organization which even on a good day was emotionally challenging work. I was making a visit with one of my favorite patients, Naomi, a 101 year old woman with a low functioning memory due to dementia but a high level of sass. I approached Naomi and her wheelchair seemed to engulf her tiny, frail body. She was uncharacteristically quiet that day and wasn’t telling me outrageous stories like she normally did. I sat there with her and reflected back to my moment of silence in Austin. I will try this here, I thought. I held Naomi’s hand gently, so that she knew I was there. “We’ll just sit here,” I said. “I’m right here. You don’t have to say anything.” I hoped that Naomi was able to experience the comfort that I had felt with the presence of Patrick back in Austin. Although she didn’t say anything for the rest of our visit, I left with the feeling that somehow my presence had improved her day, even for just a moment. As I left the nursing home where she lived, I was hit with a negative thought that I had often while working for hospice, “Am I making a difference?” But then I remembered Naomi’s tiny, wrinkled hand in mine and walked out to my car knowing that a moment can make a difference, especially when your moments are numbered.

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