I hadn’t talked to Noah in months.  He’d fallen off the planet when our production of “The Sound of Music” ended.  We’d met a year earlier when the two of us were cast in a community theater show. I was surprised to hear his voice.  Normally he was confident—hiding behind a false jovial veneer.  That night, he sounded wounded, desperate and vulnerable.  He’d just gotten out of jail and he had no place to live.  I was in Houston visiting my grandparents and would fly home to Boulder the next day.  I told him to wait for me.

Noah was a suitcase full of emotional energy.  He was passionate about Michael Jackson, he loved theater and music, he hated injustice and adored women.

A mental illness kept him from leading a normal life.  He’d hold a job for a few weeks and then, like clockwork, he’d quit, decide he needed medication and lay low until he hit another manic phase.

While he was creative, loving, loyal, and persistent he was also full to the brim of self-hatred.

And he had no idea what a gift he was.  He was like a little boy angel—the kind that’s a little mischievous and doesn’t always fall in line.  The kind of angel with a crooked halo, the kind that heaven could honestly do without.  Yet, he’s that kind of angel who has a heart of gold, the one who always saves the day in Christmas movies, much to the chagrin of the esteemed angels.

But he felt far from angelic.  He felt unlovable.  Often, Noah would get carried away, helped by a bottle of Jack Daniels or a case of beer and he’d rant about his meaningless life. He couldn’t escape the horrible, degrading thoughts in his head.  He was tortured by an unrealistic idea of who he should be.

But I’ve never loved anyone like I love Noah—he was like a son and a brother.

The day after Noah called, he showed up on my porch.

I grabbed his hand in mine and pressed a key into his palm.

He looked at the worn brass Wal-mart copied key.

“I can’t take this.”

“Sure you can.  You have any stuff?  Just move in with us.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You’d be doing us a favor.”

“I’d put you out.”

“You need to let me love you,” I said.  “Even if it’s just for right now.”

He took the key and walked off.

He moved in the next day.

Brett and I adored having Noah for a roommate.  It was never a dull moment.  He was almost childlike.  When he played games, he was a sore loser.  When he got drunk, he’d hide in the cabinets with his legs hanging out, hoping we wouldn’t find him.  He broke up with a girl by leaving her apartment saying he needed to pick up McDonalds and then failing to ever come back.

He was always too old and yet too young.  At 26 he somehow held immaturity and an old soul in perfect tension.  His light red hair and curious, leprechauny eyes couldn’t contain him.  Nothing could.  He was more alive yet more in pain than anyone I’d ever met.

Noah bounced between agony and hope like a pinball slamming from wall to wall.

He was deeply insecure.  He hated men whom he thought were more lovable, funnier and better looking than he was.  He was often only comforted by thoughts of his old home in Arizona.  This place frequently called to him, promising rest and peace if he’d only return. And, if he was sad enough and good and full of liquor, he’d hop in the car with the intention of driving to Arizona.

We’d always have to intervene.  Brett would drag him from his old, black Jeep, I’d remind him that leaving Colorado would be breaking parole.  Both of us would hug him and hold him until the morning, promising him that if he tried to run, we’d run after him.  “We’ll always bring you back home,” we’d say.

Noah loved fiercely.  He was loyal.  He would have done anything for me and Brett.  While he left empty eggshells in the fridge and didn’t wash his dishes, his compassion drove him to unparalleled generosity and kindness.

His huge heart was too much for his small frame.  He didn’t know what to do with the love he felt so strongly.  Because of this, he was a bridge-burner.  He never said goodbye.  Instead, he’d get drunk and leave.  He’d say things he didn’t mean, he’d cry in rage and angst, and he’d drive away, heading to some Arizona in his mind.

One day, Brett was in Tulsa at a wedding.  Noah had been drinking in his room and slipped out while I was in the shower.  I ran into the parking lot to check for the black Jeep: it was gone.  Panicked, I called his phone and his parents’ phone and anyone who might possibly know where he was.

I laid in bed that night, knotted over the absence of my friend, and at 1am the phone rang.

“Noah!”

“Chris, I need you to help me.”

“Noah, where are you?”

“I don’t know.”

I frantically grabbed my keys and flew out the door.  He told me he’d been drinking, left to drive to Arizona until his car caught on fire.  He was freezing on the side of the road.

I drove down I-25 looking at every car in the ditch to see if it was him.  I grew more and more anxious the farther I went down I-25 knowing that if he’d left the state of Colorado, he’d have violated his parole.  Four hours later, I saw the green sign indicating I had ten miles till I was in New Mexico.  And then I saw Noah’s jeep.  Noah was hiding inside, curled up in a ball of confusion and shame.

As I hugged him, I felt him temporarily release his resistance to love.  It was a rare moment that Noah would let himself be a child.  Not the kind of child that wants his own way, but the kind of child that needs attention, the promise of a future, someone to cheer him on and affirm his heart.  The child that needs to be parented and nurtured, who needs someone to speak value and identity into the depths of his soul.  The child that needed someone to come after him when he ran away from home.  The child that needed to know he was worth it.

Grace.  There’s always grace.

I never thought I’d see grace in Noah’s car catching on fire so that he had to pull over.  I never thought I’d see grace in a paroled hurting man living in my spare bedroom.   I never thought I could want life so badly for another human being.

He always tried to leave and the only thing I knew was that I had to try to get him back.  If he ran, we’d run after him to bring him home.

We all want to know someone will bring us back home.

I am Noah—we all are, caught between the rocks of self-loathing and self-promotion, plagued with insecurities too heavy for us to bear, grinding to a halt because of the pride that keeps us from true rest.

We all want to go to Arizona, the place in our minds where life was better—the Egypts that seem appealing once we’ve crossed the Reed Sea.  We want to be known, but when it comes down to it, it’s risky.  We want to love on one hand, but on the other, we’re scared of the vulnerability it requires.  So, we numb ourselves and run toward Arizona to escape the pain of Now.  We suffocate in unknown possibilities.  We want to go back to our former life, even though it was an unholy mess, it was familiar.

But God comes after us.

“Where are you?” “I don’t know.” “I’m coming to bring you home.”

Grace.  There’s always grace.

When he found out we were moving to Texas, Noah cleaned out his stuff one day without saying a word.  He disappeared, didn’t answer his phone, and never came by.

After our moving van was packed, there was a knock at the door.  Noah, eyes red as apples from drinking and crying, told us he’d come to say goodbye.

I hugged him.  He sobbed, grabbing on to me like a mother, trying to explain it was too painful and he just needed to leave.

“You need to let me love you,” I said.  “Even if it’s just for right now.”

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