There was something weirdly disconcerting about the way I responded to the recent piece in The Guardian about lifelong friends. It jolted me into a reverie of wistful self-examination. Reading others’ stories of lives-shared reminded me of what I had taken for granted and of missed opportunity .
I didn’t immediately think ‘Yeh, I know what that’s about !’ Instead, I went off down some memory maze searching for the ties that bind, me to thee and vice versa. I caught myself asking ‘ would she count? ‘, ‘ what’s long-enough ?, ‘ is he a first league friend or in the second tier of “acquaintances”?’
Certainly, looking back over the years, it’s easier to identify those who I thought would be around forever, and aren’t. The special ones.The friend whose intimate connection was jealously guarded from others’attention. Then the painful realisation over the years that their universe extended beyond my influence. Oh and the ignominy of being left off the birthday party list and reminded of it the day afterwards.
Of course, I had a hand in the course of events too. It takes two to lose a friendship. Careless neglect as the months and years passed may have been my worst fault. Not noticing that the Christmas card promise.. ” we must meet up in January “, had been offered in successive years… the phrase picked up and trotted out like the yellowing Christmas cards from the back of the drawer.
And I still have a book with the inscription from one friend of 35 years ago, written fondly I still like to imagine ; “There are some friends who are closer than brothers”.
The Hebrew script under the quote reminding me of our cross-cultural/religious meeting. At the time, I read and believed it. We managed to honour the intention for a couple of years perhaps, and then it slowly petered out. Busy-ness, alternative paths, changing focus;any other number of excuses might be proferred. For years I used to regularly pick the book off the shelf and just stare at the bold lettering.
But the truth is, we simply didn’t care enough.
via Daily Prompt: Eyes
“You’re looking at me !” ,said with real alarm.
“Well yes, I am . Don’t I always ?”.
“No” ,came the answer, ” not like that “.
“Like what ? ”
“Like you see something , that I am , and I don’t see.”
What an “eye opener”. This how she saw me as her therapist. That I could ‘see’ through her, or into her.
“What do you imagine I see?”
Her gaze dropped to the floor, “That I’m nothing .”
The lyrics are powerful. The melody painfully astringent.
I was young
I never needed anyone
And making love was just for fun
Those days are gone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
When I dial the telephone
Driving home after visiting an elderly frail relative, I was unexpectedly impacted by the Eric Carmen song on the radio and the reality that my visit was one of very few, if any other indeed, she’d have that week. Her neighbours and the remaining few relatives, yes they know she’s there, and yes, they probably care in a distantly observant “wouldn’t wish her any ill” way, but that’s the extent of their outreach.
We know, ‘society ‘ knows, that the impact of loneliness can be measured in poor mental and physical health, and that in our increasingly atomised isolating way of treating our elderly, many of our future selves ( oh yes, us too ), will experience the slow diminishing of our visibility, influence, and likely , our sense of being valued.
I feel the anger, the sadness, the questioning of ‘how did it get to this’ in our sophisticated wealthy society, the impetus to fight against the inevitability of it, and somehow make it all ok.
The great writer/theologian Paul Tillich wrote :
Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.
I remember as a child being forcibly told ‘ hold your tongue ! ‘ when speaking out of line, in a Latin class at school. The teacher, cherry red in the face, bellowed at me, eyes flaming, as I blurted out a translation for a fellow pupil who was struggling with the set piece we’d been given as homework. Humiliation. Body froze momentarily and then my response, from somewhere inside, wounded and angry..” I was just helping him !”, unknowingly stoking the teacher’s fire of righteous indignation. Didn’t help – him or me; both of us got punishment exercises.
When to speak and when to hold back ? The moment passes so quickly and the instinctual urge to ‘bite back’ rather than ‘ bite your tongue’ can be easily provoked.
The judge who swore back at the defendant who’d used the C word to her, after being sentenced, may now regret her choice of expletive , or even that she replied at all. Who knows. But for me, the story made me think of my control of my responses when I am enraged or insulted by someone. I can easily move into attack mode, and muster the weapons of sarcasm and insult, or I can sometimes retreat into wounded self-pity and just hide. But neither of these options feels adequate or effective.
It’s a huge challenge to see the other with compassion and empathy. Big ask ! As Brene Brown in ‘Daring Greatly’ suggests, a first step is to let yourself feel the pain of what’s happening , notice it, don’t block it out or feel that you have to respond to it immediately. And in the space that is created, become curious about the other’s pain – their woundedness, anger, and humiliation that may have been at the root of their unkindness to you.
In my best part, I hope to offer them ( and me) a future wish for kindness, understanding and acceptance, or at least to go forward, or part, in mutual respect.