This article first appeared in The Works, a quarterly magazine published by the Crossroads Center. Reprinted here with permission.
This story is about a famous Christian theologian who had recently gone through a much-publicized divorce. He was walking on a crowded street in Manhattan when he looked up and saw Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish mystic and activist, coming toward him.
Heschel immediately changed directions, threw his arm around the theologian's shoulders, and, as they walked side by side, said to him, "I must tell you of my great grandfather, the most famous Rabbi in Eastern Europe. He too was divorced."
The theologian began to weep silently.
Transitions are difficult times. Even the scheduled transitions from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood, to middle age, to old age (and all the stops in-between) can be rocky going. But when traumatic transitions happen, when we lose a relationship, a job, our wealth, our health, our stature in the eyes of others, we need companionship.
These transitions are English Channel crossings and while we fights waves, we need friends in an accompanying boat. And not just any friends, we need wise friends.
Friends who will allow us to grieve and not push for premature foreclosure. Friends who will listen to our screwy thinking and say, "That's screwy thinking." Friends who will not let the answering machine take our message when they are at home listening. Friends who will defend us and not sit silently by while others dissect our stumbling and fumbling. Friends who don't wait for us to make the first move. Friends, who will not go away, even when we are at our most self-pitying.
Friends who calmly keep eating while we break into tears in restaurants. Friends who drive us home even when we haven't been drinking. Friends who applaud sanity and, when the light appears at the end of the tunnel, deal firmly with our paranoia that it is just another train coming to run us over.
In other words, we need Abraham Joshua Heschel to meet us on the crowded loneliness of a Manhattan street and change directions to walk with us. We need him to whisper in our ear that Beethoven went deaf, Ramakrishna died of throat cancer, Martin Luther King and JFK broke wedding vows, Gandhi publicly chided his wife, Mozart squandered his money, Buckminster Fuller considered suicide, and the most famous Rabbi in Eastern Europe was divorced.
We need to join the company of the broken without leaving the company of the great. And we need a friend to grip our shoulders or hold our hand as we walk toward the newness we will someday call home.