The Battle of Overwhelm

It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember the circumstances, but I do remember how I felt.

And oh, how I feel it again.

My freshman year of college I started my stagehand gig and this particular evening was a bad night. Things went wrong. I remember getting back to my dorm room, still shaken. I couldn’t turn my brain off. I paced my room, attempted to sleep – it was after 11pm and I had an early class the next day. My stomach was doing flip flops and I was nearing the inconsolableness that anxiety always seems to attract.

Yet I was able to articulate what I needed: comfort.

But from where?

I didn’t drink at the time. I was single. All my friends were asleep – it was a school night after all. I knew I needed rest and didn’t have any business wandering around campus in the middle of the night waiting for it.

And then, his words echoed in my head: AJ, a fellow science nerd and Christian who lived down the hall from me (I lived on a co-ed floor), a kind and gentle soul, had said anytime I needed anything to come by, his door was always open. He was safe.

His door could be seen from my own, we were practically neighbors. I knocked gently. His roommate was usually gone – as was mine. AJ opened the door in his pajamas, took one look at me and said, “Are you okay?”

“Not really, I had a bad night at work. I can’t sleep.”

AJ nodded. “Come in.”

I did and turned to him. “Do you mind if I sleep next to you tonight?” It was a bold statement from someone like me. I’d only slept next to one other person, who if he’d have any romantic inclinations towards me, we’d be a couple. But AJ was different, we hit the friend zone so hard, there was nothing even remotely romantic there. He knew all this, as we had talked a lot about our romantic woes and hopes.

“Of course, Sim. I was just getting ready to turn in.”

“Thank you,” I said, already feeling the tension release.

And so, that night, I slept next to AJ, both of us fully clothed, with his arm around me, resting in the comforts of friendship.

My head hit the pillow and I was out.

It was one of those moments I can still recall nearly 20 years later: the sheer comforting presence of another person.

And this week, the waves keep coming. I managed to get my head above water to grab a lungful of air before the next wave came – until I started breathing in water – my time at the surface was not long enough to expel the aspirated water and take on new air. It’s such a scary thing, especially when your body gets tired.

While I have a built in comfort system, the Burgundy region of France is part of the reason I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks on the couch. I managed to get some sleep mixed with weird dreams, a relief in these times. I awoke with a start at 5am on the dot, a full hour before my alarm would go off. I tried in vain to get myself back to sleep, and finally gave up. I wrapped myself in my Kenyan blanket and went out on the back porch; I didn’t particularly care who saw me. It was too early to care.

It was right at dawn: a hint of light shown in the sky.

“Waiting for the angels of Avalon, waiting for the eastern glow.”

I smiled for the first time in days.

As I sat down and listened to my devotional, the tears returned. The scripture passage was about Jesus on the boats, telling the fishermen to let down their nets after a fishless night and they caught a bounty.

I wanted Jesus to show up at my workplace. It was the cause of nearly all my woes, like that bad night backstage so many years ago. I craved that peace only He can bring.

I needed an AJ to show up and reassure me in a calm voice all was going to be okay.

Nonetheless, the proverbial ocean spat me out of the tumult and onto a beach Friday night, five hours after I was scheduled to leave my shift. Waterlogged and exhausted, but breathing on my own, I ended up walking several miles before going home in order to work out all the stress and to find some semblance of order.

I watched the sun dip below the horizon.

“The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom and walked the night alone.”

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