Note: I love myself and love my life now, but occasionally old Depression and his buddy Anxiety will still sneak into my brain to play with the lightswitch. Sometimes it feels so dark inside that it physically hurts. And when the darkness is closing in, I have learned to keep a stash of candles near to hand in my heart. I wanted to share the one I am using today, in case maybe you are fighting a battle too.
Once upon a time I had lost very nearly everything — jobs, stuff, and above all someone who was very important to me. I was barely holding on, and spending periods living in my car (at one point parking all over town in fear of the repo men taking my “house”).
My main source of income was giving taxi rides through rideshare apps, so I ended up meeting lots of fascinating people (and gaining interesting stories).
One night, I was very close indeed to the end of my rope. I didn’t really see any way to fix my problems, and I felt very alone. It just didn’t feel like it was worth trying anymore – it felt as if everything I had ever tried in life kept going up in smoke. I had decided that if things didn’t turn around in the next day or two, I was ready to end my life.
And at that pivotal moment, as so often happens, Life threw the perfect stranger into my path.
I remember I had a passenger call to one of the local gay bars, and I picked up an older guy in the wee hours of the morning. He was the tiniest, most adorable Italian man with a majestic silver moustache and the kind of merry smile that made his eyes crinkle and showed a lifetime of good vibes and stories.
Well, he’d had plenty to drink, and he was feeling talkative, and I swear to God he could just tell that I wasn’t okay. It was a very long drive to his home in a quite well-to-do area of town, and I think he could tell that I just needed someone, anyone, to simply talk to me. And so he started talking about his life.
He told of how, from childhood, he had a close relationship with God. And he explained, though I won’t give away the whole story, that God had told him in a dream that he had a very specific job on earth for his whole lifetime. “You are a healer of hearts!”
He told of how, late in life, he came to terms with his sexuality and told his wife of decades. “She’s still my best friend to this day!” He talked about how much he loved his sons, and how proud he was of them; one worked as a movie producer in Hollywood, and would sometimes send a plane out to bring his dad to premiers. Another son was an accomplished opera singer, who at one point had the opportunity to sing for the Pope — a big deal, “since we’re Catholic!”
After wonderful stories about the people in his life that he clearly loved so much, he talked about how it felt to be getting older. He said, “I have a plan! When I die, I want my kids to have a wonderful Italian dinner with wonderful food and lots of wine. I want them to talk about Dad and share their memories and laugh at all the stories. And after everybody’s had enough to eat, I want them to go for a walk on the beach. They’ll have my ashes in a little bag, nothing fancy, and they’ll make a little hole in it. And when all the ashes are gone, I want them to look around in confusion, and say, ‘We lost dad!’ “
And then he looked at me in a way that is so hard to describe; do you know those moments where someone looks at you and it feels like they can just see you, including the stories you won’t tell and the hurt that you are trying to hide?
And he started asking me a little about myself. And it’s weird, because it was like he was stone cold sober in that moment, and I don’t know why, but I just opened up to him in a way that I had maybe never opened up to anyone before. And I didn’t tell him about the girl, or the jobs, or the debt — I told him about something at the core.
I told him about losing my faith, and that sometimes I have bad dreams, and I have always had a terror at the core of my being that, at the end of everything, I’m bad. That in the story of my life, I won’t end up being the hero, or even a good person. That I’ll be the villain, or the coward.
“I’m scared that maybe I’m not really good,” I said.
His face got so serious, and grave for a moment. And then he laid a hand on my arm and said, “Listen, I want you to know something. Me and God are like this,” and he crossed his fingers. “And God wants me to tell you that you’re one of His kids. And you’re going to be okay.”
By then the ride was ending, though I tell you he was one of the only people on earth I actually got out of the car and gave a hug at the end of a Lyft ride. I don’t know his name, and I have no idea if he’s even still alive, but I know that he saved my life that night, and there have been a lot of really hard times where I was about to quit, and I thought about my little Italian man and the power of his raw, gentle kindness. I can’t really tell the story without crying, but it’s important. He’s one of my Strangers, people who have appeared out of nowhere and saved or changed the course of my life.
Now, I still don’t really have religion or traditional faith. But I’ll tell you one thing. I have hope — and it’s thanks to good, sweet, kind people like that guy whose name I don’t even know. Never underestimate your impact on other human beings, even in the most tangential moments. And no matter how bad it gets, know that you’re never utterly alone — Life has a way of looking out for us, if we let it.
So today, as the darkness closes in, and that weight starts crushing my soul, I am thinking about my friend all those years ago, and I’m thanking him, and everything feels like it’s going to be okay. This is the candle that I hold close to my chest tonight as the Dementors close in, and I feel warm.
I’m going to be okay.
And so are you.
Image: Shutterstock, Used Under License (Edited)