Monday, December 5, 2011

When bad things happen to good friends: five thoughts

Neediness.  My response to tragedy is pretty consistent: I get grabbier than a lonely octopus.  This grabbiness totally ruined a relationship I was in when my mother passed away, and last year, when my brother died, it deluded me into thinking that someone was actually considering me as a destination and not a road.  (Cue Shaw’s final stage direction in Man and Superman, thank you very much.)  And the same weed is popping up all over the place now, continually sprouting afresh somewhere else whenever I yank it away by the roots.  Which makes it impossible to be around or in touch with anyone who might serve as a vessel for that neediness.  (Cue the final song from Bernstein’s Candide.)  

Condolences.  When something bad happens to a friend of mine, I feel more than a little dishonest and unworthy when people express their sorrow to me personally, as if it were a first-degree loss.  It’s not--it’s second-degree at best--and my initial reaction is to hand them a phone number or an e-mail address and say, “Here--get in touch with the person who really needs to hear what you just said.”  Which is the wrong reaction.  Because I am the person my friends see, and (because they are my friends) they see how I am affected (even when I don’t), the condolences are honest.  And yet, at the same time, they should never be taken personally, because that way leads to pride and vanity.  I cannot treat them as a crutch to lean on, but as a comforter, to pass on.

Support.  All true friendships are located on a seesaw which is poised between Sympathy and Advice.  ("Do you want me to just listen, or do you want to hear what I think?")  Tragedy changes those two drop points to Dwelling and Escaping--or (since I’ve been harping on this for  a while now and it totally fits) Destination and Road.  (“Do you want me to dwell, or do you want to go somewhere else?”)

Reflection.  Which is my personal (yup) destination, and since it shares its Zip Code with Wallowing, I have to be very careful about how long I stay there.  If it results in an activity, then I’m okay.  But if it doesn’t, then it’s like quicksand.

Perspective.  There are very few personal life-or-death issues that don’t become trivial when confronted by real tragedy.  One does not realize how often one indulges in the sweet self-delusion that this or that feeling or desire is all-important, until one is  either sideswiped or head-on’d by Life in all its senselessness.  Which at one and the same time reaffirms how unimportant mortal concerns are, and galvanizes every concerned mortal soul into a response that can affirm the opposite.  With the right perspective, quicksand becomes dishwater, weeds wither into dust, and that which is truly important--the community of mortality--takes precedence over everything trivial, and points us (if I can be allowed to paraphrase myself) down a road to the only destination that matters:

All we can do is our best
To candle against the night --
To swear by each morning sun
That all of us come from light,
So it's all of us or none.

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