A man wept at my desk today.
This isn't the first time it has happened. People in difficult circumstances come in all the time, trying to keep their pain under control. It can be grief, bad health news, concern for a family member in trouble with the law. But every time it happens, it breaks my heart.
The man started out just fine. I had spoken to him on the phone and he told me what he needed.
“Do you have divorce forms?” he started out; a normal and expected question in the course of a day, just about every day.
“Yes, we do, sir. Just come to the Information desk and anyone can get them for you.”
“Well, I have some forms here, but I need a more detailed settlement form." He stopped.
I was silent.
"I’m not interested in taking what my wife is entitled to," he continued. "I don’t even want to get divorced. But I don’t think she’s making good judgments right now, and I’m concerned that our grown children don’t lose their inheritance from me."
“I’ll try to find some books about your rights, sir.”
Thank you, I’ll be down soon.”
A graying man in a dark button down and slacks came to the desk. "I don’t know if I spoke to you on the phone?” he began. “Settlement rights?” I asked. He nodded and I began to explain what I had found. As often happens, the more I explain, the more he explained.
He is a social worker. He and his wife had an exchange student several years ago. The student’s mother died, and the wife wanted to become his mother and mentor. Now the student was back in the United States and his wife wanted him to move in with them again. The husband believes she is obsessed with the student, although not in a sexual way – the young man is gay.
The husband asked her to get counseling and she asked him to move out. They have been married 27 years.
“My friends tell me there’s nothing I can do now,” he said. “They say I need to take care of myself. I’ve lost twenty five pounds, I’m so worried about her.”
He wept. “It would be better if I didn’t care,” he said brokenly.
I realize that I am hearing one side of the story. Perhaps the wife would describe him as a control freak who is standing between her and a chance to be a positive role model for someone. She might say he's excessively jealous and just wants her attention to himself. I don't know. But -
Someone's heart is breaking in front of me. What can I do?
I touched his arm. “It’s never better not to care, sir." He looked at me. "Apathy is the opposite of love." A light went on for him - you could see it. "You just need to care for yourself as well," I added.
He nodded, and took a deep breath. “Thank you for the books,” he said, turning away.
“I’ll pray for you both,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, "Do that."
A little slice of heartache. A little piece of comfort.
It's small, but it's all I have. And sometimes, it's enough.