not paying enough attention

I was really caught off-guard last night. Maybe because I've been focusing too much on our next step--a good letter came from the Mahoneys yesterday, with pictures--and not enough on the situation I'm still in.

A guy I'd gotten to know a little during my time here showed up last night and asked for me. He had recently come back into town after a serious suicide attempt, his left wrist still deeply gouged though it was mostly healed. They'd had to use staples to close the wound. And he was saying he was depressed again, wanting to talk to someone. I sat with him for a few minutes, heard that this had been his thirteenth suicide attempt, and suddenly felt I was in way over my head.

I listened to him a bit more, and mentioned my 12-step experience and asked him if he'd considered a group like that. At the same time I helped him call a local pastor he knew (who wasn't home) and the local suicide-prevention crisis line. That call didn't seem to go very well. After talking a while he grew frustrated and hung up, storming off. I couldn't stop him.

I've been praying he made it through the night. And I don't blame myself, though I felt my response wasn't the best. It was just too much for someone with my lack of experience. But I hope I can do better next time, maybe with this guy if he shows up again or maybe with someone else. I should have offered him dinner and sat with him, or took a walk with him, probably the crisis line was a good idea but I should have offered more as well. Maybe if we had had more time together I could have thought up something better to say (like pointing out that God had saved his life thirteen times now, maybe he doesn't want him to die yet). It was important enough that I should have just set aside my plans for the rest of the evening; after he left I couldn't think of anything else anyway. Probably just giving him attention for a while would have been the best anyone could have done for him. I was just overwhelmed by the severity of the need. But that's the kind of helping I'd like to offer; that's what I've been saying recently, right?

And now I remember this passage from Waiting for God, by Simone Weil:

Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance. Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough.

In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail (the miraculous vessel that satisfies all hunger by virtue of the consecrated Host) belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralyzed by the most painful wound, "What are you going through?"

The love of neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: "What are you going through?" It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from a social category labeled "unfortunate," but as a person, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but indispensable, to know how to look at that person in a certain way.

This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.

Only those who are capable of attention can do this.

I expect I'll get another chance before long...