When my friends are in trouble, I tell them that I will walk beside them. And I really mean it. I have always had an image of being a shield to those that are close me, when life is getting the best of them. Telling them that I would walk beside them seemed like the right thing to say and do. I read an article in a journal today that caused me to rethink that image. The article describes a man experiencing the grief of losing his wife. It reads as follows:
I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I didn't walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night. He didn't speak; he didn't even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said, "Let's go get some breakfast."
I think there is something to the idea of walking behind someone. We remain in the shadows. But we also remain in a state of constant preparedness. We allow a hurting friend the privilege of needed space, but they are not left alone. And perhaps most importantly we walk behind that person in the darkness. Darkness in the above story takes on more than one form. The grieving man walked by the river in the darkness caused by a lack of sunlight. But he was also walking in the darkness of grief and loss. He was fortunate to have a friend walking right behind him that could catch him if he stumbled.
In the future, I am going to be careful about telling my friends that I will walk beside them. Perhaps that is not what they need. Walking quietly behind them in the shadow of their troubles might be just what is required. And when they are ready to talk, we will head to the Firehouse Café for the daily breakfast special. Who needs you to stay with them all night?