Originally presented to the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee
True comfort is not something I experience often. My thoughts, like some of yours, I imagine, are part of a rollicking whirlwind, a cacophony that rarely backs down—and almost never pauses. This is why I am appreciative, and often obliged, to certain people who have a soothing effect on me. An effect that allows me not only to have a much-quieted mind, but also to have a physical release of tension, to even at times enjoy the connection found in an extended hug.
When I write or compose music or play tennis or laugh at brunch with friends—these are other things that invoke shades of that comfort I am grateful for. When I walk into this church and recognize people and sit with them because it is natural to do so, that’s another aspect of it.
With one person in particular in my life I had passed through a door of sorts. When he was not around I had instances of feeling homesick, and that was something unexpected. Let us not cheapen this by automatically thinking of it as some sort of codependency—this appreciation for another person. Far from this, I mean allowing someone to be important in life—in my life—and wanting that person to be around to share in it. I am thankful for this because it has led being able to experience comfort made possible by others from an external happenstance to something that has the ability to be more integrated.
I think that we don’t always consider these things that pass from acquaintance to familiar because we never know how long they have to be with us. Another person that I am thankful I experienced a different type of comfort with was my grandmother. After she died a few years ago, I would still pick up the phone to call her, months later even. I would look at my mobile phone, sitting there in my hand, and realize that what I had been used to would have been easier to let go if I had never been fully defenseless to it—if I had never allowed the integration to occur. Sometimes, for those of us who have been able to be open to one experience or feeling—in my case, comfort—it has to be about honoring what was before, or only a handful of times so far, with no guarantee of continuation, for no more powerful reason than it is good to be familiar with that type of human potential.
It is amazing then that when I was walking down the street the other week and a man said “hi” to me and I asked him how he was, and he told me not too well, that I rudely told him that I was too busy just then—and I walked away, not knowing what he wanted. He may have been lost. He may have been asking for money. I was so wrapped up in protecting myself from how others might reach into my life that I put up an impenetrable shield. Mind you, if I had stayed to chat, it would not have been about the comfort I mentioned before—but I may have had a conversation to be thankful for. Instead I was reminded of another type of human potential—the ability to close the self off from the world and not be vulnerable and not have to deal with any possibility of being annoyed or hurt or burdened. It is this potential—this protection—that I have had to muzzle in order to experience the very thing that I am most appreciative right now.
Now I believe in protection and emergency funds and being safe, but I know the thankfulness I feel right now is only due to taking risks, by speaking when I am moved to speak, and by being authentic when it is scary to do so. Sometimes it may be similar to when we speak up when we see the rights of transgender or gay people being stomped upon. Other times it is in a much quieter space than that—such as the time I experienced when I was with the person I felt homesick for—and I had to accept him where he was in life—and only I might ever understand how that was a risk.
For those this applies to, I wish each of us the ability to know that there are feelings and experiences and potential that we cannot be thankful for yet because we have not been open to knowing them. For me, I hope to rediscover the comfort I have known—and if I do not, for whatever reason, that my appreciation for what was never fades.
– Todd Wellman (c) 2008
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