I brought a pillow to a Mexican gentleman in the emergency room once.
He had been “ejected” (is the term) through his windshield in a car crash. The glass powder still coated his skin like stardust. He didn’t speak any English. His neck was in a hard plastic collar (“C-collar”) meant to keep his neck straight and stiff and prevent him moving it in case any of his vertebrae had suffered a break.
So he had been lying on an emergency-room stretcher for half an hour forced to hold the back of his head three inches above the mattress, because the C-collar also prevented his ability to rest his head backwards.
As an EMT trainee I was unfamiliar with the hospital floor — with any hospital floor. So I asked the charge nurse behind the central desk in the ER whether we had any pillows. No, she said. But we do have blankets, there in that warming cabinet. Why?
I grabbed two folded blankets and I went to his bedside. Looking directly at this stranger to get his attention and let him know what I was doing, I showed him the stack of cheap warm fabric in my hand. Then I tucked it under his fatigued head.
It’s a jolt like grabbing a car battery. Straight center of the chest. When you gaze at somebody but their eyes have been unlocked; unexpectedly, the shutters and barricades we all accrue between the world and us are gone, removed all at once by a sweeping brush with Reality Unmitigated.
So you look into eyes and, shockingly, the person is really there. Completely present. And open and bare all the way down to the core. Naked, pure.
My surprised soul welded to that of the fatigued stardust man so fast and completely that I could feel the tug towards him from behind my sternum like a knotted rope had been anchored there. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t have enough Spanish. So we just looked at each other, me in my tight trainee polo and efficient ponytail and out-of-place artist’s eyes; he, just having been thrown through his car and scared and isolated but still largehearted enough to give gratitude. To share in love and thanks.
* * * * *
I look through the post-tornado destruction that is my life now, and I turn over pieces of it in my hands. I search for what’s salvageable; I search for what of me is worth saving from all the mishmash collapsing-inward of my past me’s together. What values are entombed beneath where I stand? Like hereditary jewels, could there be anything that priceless to be discovered in this pile of prelude? Any gleaming rock to refract and amplify for me what the fuck I’m supposed to be living for.
A gleam and an investigation and this memory turned up; I used to live for connection like that. I used to be hardbodied and just as firmly sure of my purpose, and my purpose was to punch through the daily bullshit of life in order to connect with that clarity in others; to form a clean, living bond and through that bond, transmit healing.
And like a diamond tuning a laser that insight drove the wavelength that colored all my art, all my study, all my drive. In each and everything I did, big or small.
* * * * *
That wavelength found again, all this other distracting shit has got to go. All this shame and piled-on debris which has been occluding my shine.
* * * * *
I woke up today in a clean, safe house after a full night’s sleep uninterrupted by crisis.
Just like that, I’m back.