After this first unexpected meeting, Richard began to trust Josh and welcomed him back to his home. Very little was spoken between them, but there was a friendship and comradery developing nonetheless. Josh always brought food with him to share, and this, more than anything else, proved his good intentions and sincerity, as far as Richard was concerned. Within a week, he felt confident to return to school again, this time with Josh at his side. They agreed to meet a block from the parking lot and walk together to Richard’s first class.
The morning was bright and already warm, and Richard took this as a good omen as he approached the agreed upon meeting place. He felt lighter and happier going to school this morning than he had before, and he believed his luck was turning for the better. Until he saw someone he didn’t recognize standing with Josh. He wanted to turn around and run, but Josh called out to him, “Richard! Come here, I have someone I want you to meet!”
He froze, unsure of what to do; he wished he hadn’t already been seen and wondered if he could just stand still—maybe they would go away. But they didn’t, and Josh called to him again, “Come on! It’s fine, don’t worry. It’s my sister, you’ll like her!” Reluctantly he walked over to them, and Josh introduced him to Amelia. Bashfully, he stared at the ground, appearing uninterested, but his mind and heart raced and he was actually incredibly interested. Amelia knew not to expect much conversation with Richard, Josh had forewarned her of this; and she understood very quickly that this was to be no ordinary friendship, and she was fine with that.
The three entered the school together, and it caused more disruption than any of them had expected. This was clearly a meaningful event, but what exactly was its meaning? Among the observers, their fellow students and teachers, its meaning was one of several possibilities: one; it was a display of irony on the part of Josh and Amelia and they were acting out a pseudo-friendship as a joke for the amusement of everyone, or two; it was an act of charity to fulfill some class requirement, or to bolster their applications to college, or three; they were being forced into it, perhaps as a punishment in lieu of detention or as some kind of community service. Interestingly, none of the witnesses in school that morning took the position that it was a sincere act, with nothing more than simple friendship as its source. This idea, while entertained briefly by some, seemed ludicrous and far-fetched to them; Josh and Amelia were both attractive and well-liked, and they had everything going for them, so there was no reason for them to befriend someone like Richard. They had nothing to gain from being seen with him, so the meaning of this surprising association clearly had to be one of the first three options. So as the three walked down the main hall of the school, the faces they met at first betrayed surprise, confusion, and disgust; and then, as time elapsed, an increasing sense of understanding, as each witness settled on the meaning that they liked the best.
For Richard, the meaning was something quite different; it meant he finally belonged. He had friends now and he wasn’t alone, which also meant he was safer now, and less vulnerable to attack. These things made him smile—and not merely smile—he positively beamed as he walked down the hallway. With Josh walking beside him on his right he felt now that nobody could harm him; but his mind and senses were totally preoccupied with Amelia who was beside him on his left. She smelled like flowers and cinnamon rolls—fresh and sweet—and this also made him feel safe, but in a different way. She wore a fuzzy sweater that looked very soft and though he didn’t dare touch it, he imagined how it might feel. Her face was too pretty to look at, but he allowed himself to watch her hair out of the corner of his eye; it bounced, and strands of it caught the wind, reflecting sunlight that erupted in something like golden, red and brown flames. Even her hair sometimes was almost too pretty to look at, so he looked at his feet instead.
Amelia could empathize with Richard and put herself in his position, and this motivated her to befriend him. She imagined what it was like to be him, and this put her in touch with her own sadness and anger at life, and with the world; so she believed she could put things right by being his friend and protecting him, and that this somehow would heal her own hurts. Hers was an aesthetic empathy, like a painter might have towards their subject, observing and focusing on details—exploring their object—and learning about themselves in the process. Her empathy was also like that of an actor’s, who studies another person, trying to understand who they are, their motivations and underlying desires, their struggles and their sufferings, but at a safe distance. Of course, she was willing to immerse herself in her empathy towards Richard up to a point, and her desire to help him was genuine, yet she was also afraid to get too close, or perhaps it was a natural self-preservation that she didn’t want to lose herself in the process. An artist after all is not the painting they paint, nor is an actor actually the character they portray. They still want to recognize the person looking back at them when they look in the mirror; and take a bow after the performance is over.
Josh also felt what it was like to be Richard, yet there were many things about this that he didn’t yet fully understand. It would take years for him to consciously understand what he knew intuitively at a young age; that he could lose himself entirely as he opened himself to the experiences of another. He knew how to empty himself to such a degree that he no longer merely observed another, but actually came to know and believe that he was another. For Josh, there were no strangers, and no outcasts because everyone could potentially be as close as his own family, and known perhaps as fully as he knew himself. One can imagine this ability, or belief, is not without its dangers however, if one fails to recognize and remember important boundaries between themselves and others, or even the limits of their human nature. If one isn’t careful and experienced in this kind of empathy, one might lose themselves entirely, forgetting who they are, or what they are, even to the point of imagining that they are God.
For Josh, many, if not all, dangers of this kind sorted themselves out as he aged and as he gained experience. Although, to be honest, whether they truly did sort themselves out and whether he didn’t suffer some problems related to them, was a matter of debate between those who knew and loved him, and those who didn’t care much for him.
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