In my dream, the old man was dressed in once-elegant but now slightly-shabby clothes. He was in a wheelchair. Only with great difficulty could he manage to hold his head up straight. His dark eyes took-in the handful of acquaintances gathered around a nearby table. At the same time, his eyes had a faraway look to them, as if he were straining to see a place he had longed to call home but at which he had never arrived. The other people in the room were mostly younger than he, people he had worked with or helped across the years.
A meeting of some kind was breaking up, one of thousands of meetings he had endured across the more-than-five decades of his working life. He had been in meetings when it would have been better from him to talk and laugh and cry with friends, or to walk, when he could still walk, hand-in-hand with his beloved beside a mountain stream, or to sit quietly by a roaring fire, listening to Miles Davis and letting his soul breathe-in the rhythms of grace.
Nonetheless, he spent still another evening in yet another meeting. Suddenly, or so it seemed to everyone in the room, even to him, hot tears began to stream down his cheeks. Embarrassed, he tried wiping them away, but doing so only called attention to his distress. “Are you alright? In pain? Do you need for us to call a doctor?” He tried to answer, but, for a few awkward moments, no words would come, only soft but troubled moaning. Finally, he managed to choke out the last words he would ever speak: “All I ever wanted was to be loved.”
In waking life, I knew that old man in my dream pretty well. Only at the end was he able to say what had been true about him—what is true about all of us—from the beginning: “All I ever wanted was to be loved.”
We want to feel cradled close to our mother’s breast, to feel the stubble of our father’s whiskers on our cheeks as he embraces us, to hear her sing us into peaceful sleep, and to listen to another of his stories. We want friends who let us into their circle, join is in our dreams, stay by our sides when we fail, catch our tears, and share our laughter. We want someone who will have us gladly and hold us tenderly, “for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” We want a church where we don’t have to pretend to be perfect or wear masks to hide our fears or feel pressured to affirm more than we know.
A young child reaching up to his grandfather; a teenage girl yearning for the boy in her fourth-period class to speak to her; a young adult desperate not to eat dinner alone; a middle-aged man, out on the road, struggling with his loneliness; and a grieving spouse, who buried her husband, returns night after night to house chilled by his absence all want what we all want: to be loved and to love.
“All I ever wanted was to be loved.”