While waiting online at an ATM, a customer behind me said, and more to the air than to anyone standing nearby, “Oh, these machines! One’s always out of service.” I turned my head slightly, although I understood she was not talking to me specifically. It was apparent that she was verbalizing her frustration at having to wait in a long line with only one working ATM. “Sorry,” she said when our eyes met.
“Oh, I get it!” I said back to her, because who doesn’t get it?
“I have to go to a funeral. I hate this!” She crossed her arms stiffly.
Eventually, after we’d both completed our banking, I discovered that the woman at the ATM lost a very close friend to suicide a week before. She was visibly raw from the friend’s traumatic decision. I became curious, so I inquired with, “Did she leave a note? I mean, does anyone know why she did this?”
Folding her banking into a zipper-style wallet, she was making every effort to contain herself, yet her hands gave her away–they shook visibly. I didn’t want to walk away from her; she was clearly in despair. Life threw her a curveball and now she was lost inside a sea of uncertainty while trying to pave a clear path to the new and confusing world she now stood in.
Still, I was concerned with whether I would get a $76 parking ticket. I was on the lookout for one of the ubiquitous L.A. meter enforcers. I’d caught sight of one turning on to the street where I was parked. Yet I stayed with the woman who probably felt utterly alone in her cocoon of sorrow and grief.
Roughly in her mid-30s, the ATM woman removed a pair of sunglasses from her eyes and placed them on top of her head of thick, auburn-colored hair fixed into a disheveled bun. She sniffed her runny nose and said, “She couldn’t bear it . . . take it anymore. The direction her life was going.” Dabbing tears resting on her cheeks, the ATM woman resumed. “She couldn’t find a way to wait out the storm. It”–and she said the word “it” with emphasis, as though it held some kind of significance to the friend’s ultimate decision–“became unbearable.”
The mess of life has its moments. Every single one of us has felt the weight of life beat down on us. Cloaked within that experience it was unfathomable why God didn’t just show some bloody mercy already! But for many of us, life is larger than the uncomfortable-ness of those off-guarded moments that confront us. Although any turbulence we come up against is quite real, we manage. And even if we’re angry or scared, some of us see a fork in the road. But there are some who can only see a dead-end.
The woman at the ATM might well have been the best friend one could ever hope for. She could have been there for her friend even when it compromised other areas of her life–a relationship with someone she was involved with, a marriage, or perchance her job. But what the ATM friend hadn’t come to discern just yet–her friend lost faith in herself, and in life.
This was not random. In her own personal darkness, the friend saw nothing in the realm of her existence that felt worth holding on for. She probably contemplated over such a drastic decision for some time. But one day it became clear. That faithful day was her unbearable. And someone who isn’t facing unbearable doesn’t know exactly what unbearable feels like to the person who is going through their own personal unbearable.
Some of my last words to her were: “Honor your friend.” She came back with: “I do . . . I did honor her.”
“No,” I said. “Honor her decision.”
I will never know if I made an ounce of difference on the day the ATM woman had to witness her dearest friend descend into the earth. I trust, deep in my core, it will follow her everywhere she goes, even if it’s wedged in her subconscious. Just as strangers have guided me over my lifetime, and when I was so unaware. Supposed chance encounters are not something I consider superficial. Each one, I know, has come with a precious life lesson. And yes, in moments when something I was going through felt unbearable.