The blond guy was quiet, serious, intensely alone even in a room full of us. He made no overtures and received none. He sat in the back of the room and watched us all, but somehow our eyes never met. I watched him closely and saw his face contort when others shared their pain and anguish. He would don his glasses to hide his eyes when his emotions overflowed into tears.

It was his emotions that kept me from approaching him. They were a force in and of themselves,  and they kept me out as surely as any brick wall. And his ponytail,  in a room full of men with short-cropped hair or shaved heads, his ponytail stood out.
He was different.

He was the same. Over time I came to realize that he carried a heavy load, as we all did. And when he spoke, although his speaking often halted as he attempted to control his emotions, he expressed our own sorrows and fears, our small triumphs and joys. I watched him over time. I listened to him for a year. I heard him share what he had learned and how he dealt with his sorrows, that were our sorrows. He was one of us. Even if we never came to know him, he was one of us.

Years later, I heard it said that it was the few of us who dared to know him, who shared and encouraged him to share, who kept him going.

I never really knew him at all. I never spoke directly to him, but my sharing helped him as surely as his helped me. We shared the heavy load.