The young man -- well, he's not so young, really, not any more -- was angry. Really angry. An arrangement in a new city is not working out as immediately as he had hoped, and he is not getting the help from the family member who lives there that he thought he would receive. No car, no job, fearful of being unable finding his way through a new bus system.
He calls me a lot. He is so angry on this call, though. I sit and listen, interjecting the occasional encouraging murmur, but his anger does not cool for a long, long time, and when it does, it becomes tears. Deep sobs. This is unusual for him. "I'm messin' up," he says. "I don't have nuthin' goin'. Just like every other time."
But he is not messing up. This is not like every other time. Encumbered with lack of education and some psychiatric disabilities, by a history of addiction and a criminal record, he has nonetheless remained out of jail and clean for more than four years -- that may not sound like a big achievement to some, but it is huge. He has traveled across the country to a new city to make a new start. It is true that his family is not as supportive as he would like, but he can be supportive of himself, I tell him. You always have yourself and you always have God. Just get on a bus and ride it around for a day, I tell him. Look at landmarks and see where it stops along the route. You've got the time to do that, and then you'll have a feel for where you are in the city.
After we've been on the phone for quite a while -- ten or fifteen minutes -- I tell him that his crying is a good thing, that it will help him rest and sleep, that it gets his hurt out in the open, that it helps him not turn it so readily into aggression. I tell him that he is doing all the right things, that he is managing his anger well: I remember a time when he would have found somebody to hit. I tell him that he's going to make it, little by little, that he has overcome much in his life and with God's help will overcome what confronts him now. Just go ahead and cry for as long as you like, I say, it's good for you. Okay, he sniffs, and we agree to talk tomorrow.
Oh, life! It can be so hard, for so many. So many start way behind the starting gate, way at the end of the line. It is so hard just to come abreast of the others, just to arrive at the place where most people start out. Look at the people on the train, in the store -- who knows what courage they must summon just to get up in the morning?
In a couple of weeks, the American Thanksgiving Day. The day when everyone wants to be at home, to cook and eat together, to feel the warmth. The day when the lack of that warmth in one's life is most keenly felt. But the first Thanksgiving of our corporate mythology wasn't like that: it wasn't about celebrating a familiar coziness -- there was, some of them might have thought to themselves, little to celebrate: they were in a strange place, a new and profoundly uncomfortable place. It was a meal far from home, eaten with strangers and dependent on their kindness. A third of the colony had died. Winter was coming.
It is we who have added the sentimentality to Thanksgiving. The original was far more sinewy. Making plans? Buying a turkey, reading recipes? Let at least some of your love and longing be outward in nature -- leaning toward people outside the dear circle of your own family and friends. Need is everywhere, and longing.