Someone I never knew sent me a message and asked if I had a few minutes to meet him for coffee. My first inclination was to refuse since I needed a quiet time with myself that evening. But then my fingers went on to tap the words to agree to meet him. I am not sure why maybe I thought he would not have wasted his own time had it not been important to him. I may need time for myself, but to the man it might be a matter of life or death. I know I am putting it to the extreme, but I thought I had to make myself available for all the possibilities. I also recalled my mother’s words, “Be there when someone wants you there, otherwise they will not be there when you want them there.”
What my mum meant was that “invest your time on people in need so they could reciprocate when you need them.”
He was there ten minutes before the time. He did not see me when I approached the table. I stopped and observed him. He looked tensed, troubled and even disturbed. For some reason, I was glad I accepted his invitation. He smiled broadly when I sat opposite him but quickly composed himself and managed to relax.
The conversation started “with this and that” but I did not want to rush him because I knew it was difficult to put into words whatever was in his mind.
It was a good ten minutes before he could gather his wits and come out in the open. It was about his mentally disabled five-year-old daughter. He and his wife were worried about her future. I listened for a quarter of an hour about his concerns. Every movement in his body and gesture was riddled in pain. It was not easy for him. It was not just the physical signs but he completely bared his feelings.
When he stopped, the effort left him mentally exhausted. I could tell that with the way his facial muscles dropped and the traces of tears lined up his eyes.
It was hard for me, too, to see a grown-up man broken up to pieces. However, I also knew it was a privilege that he chose me to tell me about it outside the realm of his close relatives, considering that I was a complete stranger to him. I was loss for words, but I knew his thoughts were running a marathon that perhaps would never cross the finishing line.
There was an awkward minute between us after that whose space of time was filled up by our actions of slowly sipping the coffee. I also remember our eyes never met at that moment, but I am sure our thoughts were on the same wavelength.
Did he really want a solution from me or just he wanted a complete stranger to listen to his troubles? One minute was not enough to come with an answer. So I broke the silence by promising that I would spread awareness about mentally disabled children as much as I could.
He smiled, and ten minutes later he left happier than when I first saw him. Would I be able to help? Do the communities really care? Do they feel the pain? Those questions were in my mind. I guess it is not a physical pain. You could burn your finger in a fire, but the blisters would heal in days. Then you forget about it.
A scar deep in your mind is difficult to handle because there is no ointment for it except to reconcile with it. Sometimes, there is no “fix” for everything.
However, with the right attitude, people around can rally together to support each other to make it less painful and bearable. That’s what the community is all about. You may have a thousand campaigns, but you need people to care enough.
Saleh Al Shaibany