I’ve been sitting here at my desk trying to sort out some things. I realize that almost all of it has to do with friendship, the kind that impacts our lives deeply and whose changes cause the kind of reverberations that transform how we will approach the world in the future. Today, for instance, I feel fragile. Much of the joy that I have been feeling – almost all of it – drained out of the day.
I’ve had many occasions on which I have had to reflect on the vagaries of friendships. Mostly it has to do with the sudden realization that what it means to my American friends is not what it means to me. For me, a friend is anybody I’ve met (and who hasn’t pissed me off). For that person I will do very nearly anything. If I like the person then I’m wont to imagine that I will love this person for life, and, worse, that they will love me back – how could they not? This is what I think. I seem unable to contemplate the fact – sometimes eventuality – that this will, in all likelihood, not happen, that most people weigh the worth of what they love before they choose to love it.
The thing about it is that the present dislocation also throws the past sense of ease and affection into question. Making sense of that past is similar – less drastic, but similar – to what Joan Wickersham describes in The Suicide Index, (Mariner, 2009), her book that deals with the aftermath of her father’s suicide. Everything you believed or thought you knew about the person is suddenly suspect. And you are left with the feeling that you have been either blind, foolish, or both. In her case she might ask, how could this father, whose way of being made me who I am, who loved me so much, decide that he would leave me, and do so in this heart-shattering way? In mine I might ask, how could this person with whom I’ve shared such a personal part of me decide that s/he would shut me out, or talk badly about me, or think ill of me – you pick, and do so without a second thought?
I once had someone whom I’d stood by in everything over two decades – even when she treated me pretty abysmally, and after, through her abortions and her depression and the eventual birth of her firstborn – write me a letter, an email, no less, to tell me how I had failed her in two very specific ways. Both times it was through things I had said, laughingly uttered in complete trust that we were kindred spirits, feeling the same way about the same ridiculous things. In subsequent years I’ve dealt with some such moments – all of them incomprehensible to me, all of them unanticipated – but possibly none as devastating as that one was. And still we muddled through, she and I, and came out the other end reasonably intact. It has been my sense when these things happen, that I forgive the ones I like – I write fiction, after all, and I can come up with a 1001 excuses for the things people do. The slightly-damaged people, in particular, I find a way to get back home, as it were, with them.
But there are lessons I’ve had to face, each time, and each time unlearn. I hope to forget these things, as always, to not take them too deeply to heart someday – not today, today they have settled within, making me mostly stare out of my window and grieve deeply for what is lost. I hope to because I like the way I have chosen to live – this way of embracing people and being with them, close and unfiltered, being mistaken in the things I take as givens, opening myself completely to whatever it is that they are about.
We don’t interact as people, we interact as stories. Half the time what we think is conscious intent is really unconscious narrative. All of it is a backstory and we dance around like we are the main protagonists. In other words, we think we unfold in NY, but NY is its own unfolding.
The words that you say aren’t always the ones that are heard. This is a hard one for a person like me whose entire life is about words; if someone cannot hear them, or understand them, then they have not known me at all, no matter how much time they’ve spent with me. That is tough to take – I’m sure those of of my friends who also write can empathize.
Most people choose self-protection over abandonment. It is easier to hold on to what you have than to let go in free-fall. Free-falling is thrilling and joyful and risky. People usually prefer safety.
Of all the horrors that escaped from Pandora’s box, pride exacts the highest price.
In his memoir, The End of the World As We Know It: Scenes From a Life, (Algonquin, 2007), Robert Goolrick writes, “If you don’t receive love from the ones who are meant to love you, you will never stop looking for it.” I would add that such a person will always seek to confirm the absence – never the presence – of that withheld love and so guarantee that it will never be felt. It is easier to do this than to forgive the mistakes of flawed human beings, particularly those who are supposed to be like gods to their children. Which brings me to this last.
A person who cannot forgive, is not capable of love. I think back to that BFF and the falling out, the bitter things that were said by us both. I think also about another BFF, an American one this time, and I, the dreadful hurtful words that were uttered. And yet, somehow, there is still love. I don’t know for sure that they love me back, just as hard, but I have to believe they do because their very brokenness – like my own – convinces me that they are as capable of forgiveness, and therefore love, as I am. We, all of us, acquire grace because we understand our own fractures, and it is that grace that permits forgiveness. Without that hard-earned grace our hearts don’t have a chance of becoming something pliant, tender, hospitable to love.
So there it is. There’s more, perhaps, but this is all I am able to write, having spent this day so much in contemplation and withdrawal. I don’t feel great today, but someday I will. And when I do I hope to return to being the person I was: incautious, joyful, wide-open to whatever life brings, softer-hearted even than I am now. Somewhere in that future I hope that the people I have loved will find it in themselves to forgive me, too.