We’re sitting in the glow of neon, the golden arches casting pale yellow and red on the wet asphalt where we’re parked.
I’m sipping iced tea even thought it’s cold and we’re clutched by winter’s deep spell, flurries scattering around outside haphazardly lacking the stamina to collect themselves on the ground. The windshield wiper swipes at them randomly streaking the window with frost.
I’ve pulled my hat down low over my unwashed hair and my arms wrap across me as if my embrace could somehow hold my broken parts together.
The world is quiet and dark and we sink past midnight as the hours tick by. It’s 3:00 a.m. when she drops me off and I fiddle for my keys. My home has long since gone to bed, but someone left the light on for me. They knew I would be back late. This isn’t the first time she’s come and got me.
I heard her knock, not long after I got her text. I still wasn’t ready. I stood in my pajamas with the front door cracked open, the evening light filtering into my hallway, my body wilting in the cold air as I let her in and she waited for me to pull on yoga pants and a sweatshirt, grab a hat and scoop my greasy limp hair up under it.
I glimpse myself in the mirror and my skin is creased and blotchy from too many days of tears and a head so full of sorrow, it drags down defeated. Makeup is pointless.
When we first met I wore red lipstick and outfits consisting of more than pajamas or yoga pants. I made jokes she laughed at. We used to sit in her living room grasping tea mugs with our legs tucked up underneath us on her deep couches, leaning in to conversations like girls up past our bedtimes, the kids scattered around playing late into the night as the candles burned down.
We made dates to browse bookstores and grab a bite during happy hour. We went to the French bakery and bought something delightfully flaky that drenched our tongues in butter and sugar.
At the start of our friendship I showed up and made an effort.
We talked for hours and the words and stories came smoothly. She was bubbly and enthusiastic, a whirl of energy and accomplishments, her extroversion a draw and contrast to my introversion. For being so different we had so much in common. I felt I had something to offer back to her.
I enjoyed who I was when I was with her. I began to believe in friendship again.
And then the despair entered. The deep drag of depression pulled me down. Lulling me with the invitation to stop fighting. To stop trying and just close my eyes, pull my duvet up over my brittle and desperate mind. The darkness invited me to stay there, whispering I am alone and unseen, irreparably broken and useless.
It would be so much easier to just let go of everything since I can’t seem to hold it together anyway. I’ve had to survive it again and again. The cycles that never seem to relent. And I am bloodless and carved out like a carcass set to dust in the desert.
And still she comes and gathers me.
We bypass the living rooms filled with children because some things can’t be said with tender young hearts, things about their mama and how she wishes she could just sleep and never wake up, questions about whether or not she’d hurt herself, confessions about how it’s so hard to hold it together for them and how when they see her breaking apart she wishes they had someone better, someone stronger to mother them. How she thinks they would be better off without a mother who struggles with mental illness.
We bypass tea shops and happy hour because I am unwashed, and crowds wither me. I bruise under the guilt of everything I can’t bear.
We end up in the McDonald’s drive thru, ordering iced tea and snagging an empty spot in the parking lot. Evening sinks to night and everything seems to still as we sit. We watch the night watchman make circles through the empty parking lot, headlights flashing into dark shops, eyeing our parked car with suspicion.
The words don’t come as fast now. I don’t make her laugh anymore. I’m not being a good friend. I can’t offer her fun or interesting.
But still she comes.
She doesn’t rush into the pauses, she sits in the hush and lets me collect my pain, ease it out slowly like a prayer. She asks good questions but doesn’t expect easy answers. She’s gentle and slow, a presence willing to sit in the dark cold night to show she’s with me.
Still she comes.
I didn’t see her hospitality in the tea cups or the comfy couches, the home she keeps decorated and spotless. I don’t see it in the things she does or the ways she serves, although I know it’s there too. I know she does those things with a frenzy of energy and intention.
But I’ve seen lots of people do those things. Maybe for some people it’s easier to check off a list, drop off a casserole, set up the good china, and make a roast. But it’s hard to sit with someone’s pain, let it roll off their slumped shoulders and drag it across yours so you can stand together. And that’s what I needed most.
I see her quiet hospitality in the space she makes, the hollowed and holy quiet.
She reminds me of the gospel when I open the door and slide into the passenger side as wrecked and empty as I am. I see it when she’s willing to sit in the discomfort of being unable to fix me with a meal or an errand or a Bible verse. I see the gospel when she’s willing to keep coming back to love me through the darkest nights.
I saw Jesus a little more clearly when we were sitting in her minivan at McDonald’s at 3:00 a.m.