'Grab hold of the nearest stranger. Don't take the stranger's hand, God knows where that's been, but grasp their arm, firmly. Don't let go until I tell you to.
Your best friend might meet this stranger at a rock show and they might sit in a parked car talking for hours and when they break up, 10 years later, the stranger, the one whose arm you’re holding right now, might call you sobbing at odd hours of the night, asking What did I do wrong? And you will say, You did nothing wrong. Practise this now, say: “You did nothing wrong,” to the stranger.
You may never meet this stranger again but you may, years from now, talk to the stranger’s grown child, in another country and never put it together that you once held his mother or father’s arm. It’s unlikely to come up. Incidentally, the stranger’s child will be very politically engaged, and you will do a lot of bluffing to keep up with the twists and turns of the conversation.
A few weeks from now, you might be at a restaurant with some friends and the people at the next table might be laughing incredibly loudly and with great frequency. And not at all innocently, you will think to yourself, they are laughing as if they are better than everybody else. The loudest laugher, the ringleader, has an especially arrogant cackle.
You imagine marching over there and punching the loudest laugher in the face, which is exactly the kind of fantasy you’ve been trying not to have. In an effort to apologise for the imaginary thrashing, you smile at the loudest laugher, who, you suddenly realise, is the stranger whose arm you held a few weeks ago.
This stranger might not have a drug problem now, but later, a few years after you become friends with the stranger, you will realise, with a sigh, that’s it’s best to take everything the stranger says with a grain of salt. Sigh now in preparation.
This is the first time you’ve touched the stranger, but the two of you might touch again, alone, in the dark. The stranger might ask you if that feels good and you might reply with an ambiguous mumble that the stranger couldn’t possibly understand, and you feel the stranger wanting to repeat the question, but deciding not to and now it’s too late for you to clarify your reply, which was affirmative. Confidentially, I would like to say to you now, It’s never to late.
This stranger will die, sooner or later, and you probably won’t be there to help the stranger let go of their life, which was made of many, many individual moments – this being one of them. Give the stranger’s arm a gentle squeeze right now, as if to say: “Go on, you can do it, just let go without really thinking about it,” as if life were a cup, or a rock, or piece of string.
You may let go of the stranger’s arm now.”