Beth of Cassandra Pages wrote this, last week:
The only way I could see to cut through was to listen and try to connect very attentively and directly, bypassing the surface stuff as much as I could. Several of my priest and minister friends have told me that this is the spiritual dis-ease they see most often: the inability of many, even most, people to believe that they are worthy of being loved, just as they are. Yet every person at that party was wonderful, lovable, perfect in their own uniqueness. Is it possible to tell people that with your quietness, with your eyes, with your careful attention?
...which prompted this recollection.
I remember both -- weeping inconsolably, and just barely breaking into a couple of sobs. I don't know which memory is true. I was in trouble, and I had never been in trouble before. I could see the gulf opening in front of me. I would always be in trouble, from now on. There was no reason why it should ever end. I didn't know what was wrong, but I was broken, broken beyond hope.
The desks were arranged in a big square. That was the strange thing. I was opening my heart to this man, while I sat small at a row of small desks twelve yards away from his big teacher's desk. He made no move to sit closer to me. I made no move to sit closer to him.
I don't remember that he said anything to me at all. Seems like he must have, but all I remember is the silence, after I told him how I would always be in trouble now, and that I didn't know why.
He only looked at me, but his look was filled with helpless concern. It must have been the end of a dark winter's day, because the room was growing dark. I'm sure it was only a few minutes, but I experienced it as hours, a whole day waning into evening. Shadows filling up the room.
I can guess now, thirty-six years later, that he saw it as a moment of abject failure. The moment when he should have said something, the moment he could have steered that terrified, wretched boy onto a better path, with some well-chosen words. Reassured me with some banter, helped me understand that it wasn't all that important. Or told me a few home truths about life that I wouldn't hear at home. Instead he just sat there, paralyzed.
It was the best gift he could have given me. That my misery could actually stagger an adult, and move him to so much concern as to render him speechless, transformed it. It wasn't just my misery. He had undertaken to help me carry it. It was fine that he had nothing to say. There was nothing to say. Or rather, there was only one thing to say, and he said it with the expression on his face -- I mattered to him. Even if I was in trouble, even if I was going to be in trouble for the rest of my life, I still mattered.
I hold that memory, that moment of connection, as the anchor that kept me from sliding away altogether, sliding away to the place my misery would have taken me. It couldn't pull me back -- that would have to wait a couple years -- but without it I think that I might be dead or in prison now.