I didn’t know what to expect, or when to expect it. I thought I might read while I waited so I brought a book with me, only two chapters remaining. I planned to write more, so thank your lucky stars, this entry could have been several thousand words longer. Instead, the interaction of the two characters in the picture above provided the entertainment.
So I sat nursing my overpriced iced coffee, allowing myself the rare luxury of distraction courtesy of the two men performing their homage to silent era cinematic comedy teams, and waited for the arrival of the man I came here to meet. I had never in my life paid for an iced coffee and that minor beverage milestone wouldn’t be my last first on this summer Sunday. This man and I had never met, but I was aware that he had done enough online research to have a clue as to who he was looking for. I made sure to wear the glasses that I only wear for driving (and profile pictures, apparently). As for who I would be looking for, I would know his face as quickly as tens of millions of others would. Instantly.
I sat by the floor-to-ceiling front window to catch him, all the while wondering if I would be the first person to recognize him. A figure who at one time owned the world stage, had traveled four hours to this meeting. His last update, via text message, had him passing Greenwich. Twenty-three minutes away, according to his GPS. Twenty-three more minutes of stretching the hour-old tall/small iced coffee to justify my presence in this place.
Though we had not met, this man & I are members of the same fraternity. Not a fraternity of the sort that I avoided like each and every one of Moses’ ten plagues in my university years. Not the sort that uses the Greek alphabet to signify membership, but a fraternity nonetheless. Rather than a foreign alphabet, this group is most often represented by no letters, no words, no sound at all that might betray a brother’s membership. This is a non-exclusive club, yet at one time or another most of us have believed that we were it’s sole member. Statistics will say that at the very least, one in six men wear our colors. More often than not, our colors have been camouflage. A uniform that some of us have worn forever, to pass, to blend, to hide. Half of us have been—or will be—laid to rest in this suit, having worn it from the moment of indoctrination until the day all of our remaining moments have run their course. Some among us will see that cessation as the closest thing to mercy they have known in several decades.
This man, with his place in athletic history secured, and I—absolutely nobody of note—have a shorthand before we speak, and a code when we do. We finish each other’s sentences in a common language. Our plan to meet for forty-five minutes becomes a few hours. I imagine that conscripted soldiers relate in just the same way. What few words are needed express common thoughts, relate common experiences, no matter how divergent the backgrounds. What has separated us from the rest of the world is exactly what bonds us to each other immediately. A characteristic that those nearest and dearest to us have only ever experienced as ‘the distance’, we would call simply: ‘knowing’, if we needed to call it anything at all. We don’t.
What may be walls in our closest relationships function as bridges to complete strangers. The hope is that, eventually, these structures may be transformed into gateways through which re-entry into the world of the living is possible. In the instant of knowing that you are not alone, there is some measure of comfort, of validation. It is not just you. You are not insane. It was not your fault. It is as if you have had a recurring nightmare for years—for decades—and someone, at the benighted nadir of a nightmare all their own, has heard your silent scream. I hear you, brother.
The transformative power of that…
This secret society has no secret handshake, and it is part of my work to make it a secret no more. Handshakes are for one’s who don’t know. We know all too well, and through that, we know each other better than most. Handshake? Forget handshakes. We, who can shy away from human contact or seek it with compulsive destructiveness, can greet our brothers with a hug, damn it. We get it. We understand. We know.