Usually, when people come to visit me, I provide information, guidance and a base for their otherwise autonomous vacations. I’m happy to do so; it’s fun to see one’s city from an outsider’s perspective. It also makes me realize that I am not as much of an outsider as I feel sometimes – for a brief time, I am the expert in all things European.
Other times, friends are just plain jazzed to know someone who lives in Europe, and are happy to pretend to live here too, if only for a little while. They arrive with no agenda, and couldn’t care less if they see the sights. They sleep late, eat long lunches, and happily tag along on even my most boring errands. They bring to my daily life a sense of magic that reminds me how blessed I am.
And then there is my cousin Louis. He calls me on his way to the airport, and when he arrives we simply pick up where we left our last conversation. He has a startling ability to know instantly the lay of whatever land in which he finds himself. By the time I moved from Rome, he knew four ways to get to my house and was taking dinner requests from my roommates.
But there is another kind of friend that visits, and they hold a special place in my heart – it’s the friend that calls me and in one tumbling go, tells me a story of heartbreak, disillusion, or unimaginable burden. And then: “Can I come over?”
I am humbled by this request for sanctuary. I know what it’s like to feel that succor is thousands of miles away from where you are right now; despite all logic, going there seems to be the only thing that really makes sense. I’ve made similar requests in my life, and they’re hard to do.
It’s a feeling of escape. Of not wanting to be found by the life that is chasing you in the dark, but not wanting to be alone, either. Of needing to surround yourself with literally foreign elements so as not to be reminded of the hell you’ve been through.
I like being the friend someone runs to in their time of need. I like putting my own life on hold and concentrating on the healing of someone else. It’s a kind of care giving that suits me well – it requires flexibility; a love of, and respect for, quiet indulgences; and the ability to know when to just sit and listen not only to what’s being said, but to the silences as well. Not to get too hippy-trippy, but it’s mesmerizing to be in the presence of someone whose soul is wrestling to right itself.
Several months ago I spoke to a friend on the phone who had been, and still is, fighting mightily to pick up the pieces of her life and mold them back into some shape that is recognizable to her. My heart ached for her when she said, “I miss you so much. I need to get out of here. Can I come over?”
When people dream of wealth, they dream of being surrounded with all the luxuries they currently lack. Me? I dream of answering my friend’s question with a first-class plane ticket to my door.