Last week, I went out to a local gay bar to dance and hang out with a couple buddies. We had a really good time, it was nice to get out and just let loose for a night. As the bar closed, we attempted to leave through the main entrance, but I was separated from my friends by a group of black guys that were hitting on me. My pals made their way outside, trying in vain to get me to follow them as I dawdled out of politeness with these strangers. I searched for an excuse to leave them gracefully, when I noticed something amiss happening 15 ft away at the pool tables. A young, heterosexual (I'm assuming from what I saw and was told) jock wound his fist back before swinging forward into the face of an elderly gay man.
I was so shocked. First of all, I don't witness many fights because I don't like them, so I avoid them as best as I can. Secondly, the victim of the punch was an older gentlemen who typically keeps to himself, and normally hangs out to play pool or drink with his buddies. I'd never known him to stir up trouble, not even in a remote way. Third, I couldn't understand how such a punch was allowed to be delivered: there were many people around, including bar staff, and the punch was given in a very obvious fashion.
I quickly withdrew from my new "friends" and made my way over to the injured man. He stood there, shocked, with blood crawling down his face at an increasing rate. While a huge mob of people pushed to get the young punk kid out of the bar, no one rushed to the aid of the bleeding man. I wrapped my arm around him and said, "Let's get you cleaned up. I'm walking you to the bathroom." Due to the shock, he stood in innocent defiance, his frozen legs resisting my gentle tugs. I pushed him again, chiding him towards the bathroom, until his feet finally obeyed my meek commands. Only one other person followed us into the bathroom, a member of the bar staff who was told to get his story and watch him. By the time the three of us reached the sink, I found out his name was Joe, and Joe was lamenting loudly through a recipe of angry tears and confused sobs. I had him sit on the counter and apply pressure to his bloody nose as I tended to his face with soapy towels. My close friend found me, and rushed to get ice for Joe. The bar help talked to Joe in an effort to claim information, and to emit a laugh or two from Joe's pouty lips.
I remember feeling different during this entire episode. I remember a distinct change coming over me as I left the corner of my new suitors, and rushed to aid Joe. I remember listening to him cry about the impossible act of an attack happening to him at a gay bar. I remember the awful sadness in his tone as he recounted the incredulity of such a hateful thing occurring in this place, this sanctuary he entrusted to protect him from just such cruelty. I asked him if there was anyone I should notify, if he had friends there at the bar or family not present that he'd want me to contact. I remember my heart breaking as he replied in the negative, and as he wondered aloud what he would tell his family of this night. As I hugged him, and promised him it'd be okay, I remember feeling like something died in me. And something came alive in me, all at once. What a strange feeling! I don't know quite how to articulate it, except that it is the kind of feeling you only receive when you are thinking entirely of the good fortune of someone other than yourself, and you're able to step outside of yourself and see the world, even if just a glimpse of it, for a glimmering moment. Like God is granting you a piece of clairvoyance that only comes through a stressful experience like Joe's.
More bar staff came to take care of Joe, and asked that I leave with my friends, since the bar was now officially closed. They promised they'd take good care of Joe, and thanked me for being there to help. That night, I prayed that things would be okay for Joe, that he'd make it through the terrible evening, and that someone who really loved Joe would be there for him to help him through the remainder of his sorrows that week. I thanked God that I was given enough quickness of mind to be ready to help Joe, and I asked that if I were ever to be placed in Joe's position, that someone would be there for me.
Last night, I went back to the same bar, and found Joe almost right away. He recognized me immediately, and smiled a huge smile as he waved his open arms towards me. I remember the genuine joy I felt after seeing his face light up, and I was instantly glad I had chosen to stop in. As I studied his face to see how it had healed, Joe said to me, "Thank you so much for last week." And though he had bruised under one eye, and a slight blemish on his nose, Joe looked beautiful and well. He bought me a Diet Coke, and we sipped our drinks with silly grins on our faces, bouncing to the happy beat of a Madonna song.
War is such an ironic thing: it is created in chaos, and flourishes in hate and violence. But when a beautiful bond of friendship is created, and a charitable exchange of service occurs, those are the things that remain long after the last battle. Joe will always be a reminder to me of just that: the wonder of being a survivor.