Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Something I Couldn't Live Without

I'm addicted to NPR. I love all the in-depth interviews and quirky stories. But, my favorite show is Monday's This I Believe. There's something about listening to others articulate what they believe this life is all about that disquiets and intrigues me. Probably because at this point in my life, I don't think I could answer that question with just one concise answer. There are so many ideas that shape how I choose to live. Maybe "Giving". But who knows. That might be another blog...

Yesterday's piece by David Greenberger especially stayed with me (read it). He was writing about the value of his friendships with the elderly, but this phrase from the middle of his essay seemed universal:

"That's part of the wonder of relationships: Anything that happened before we knew each other is slightly mysterious. It's only the present we can know. And a conversation in the present is given shape by the lifetime of events and ideas that preceded it. There's no need to go fishing for the past; it will make itself known."

That mystery is always before us. I've teasingly asked "new" friends, "So, do you think we would have been friends if we'd met in high school?" It's almost impossible to imagine the shadowy me from the past mixing in an unknown world with this other person's past self. It, too, surfaces in the climax of romantic yearning that wishes we'd known each other always, that there was no life before us. We search for the stories that will illuminate the person in front of us, when all the while the essence of those stories will emerge simply through knowing the other person in this moment. It's a nice idea, to accept someone just as they are now, not who they might have been before or who you'd like them to be.

I found this piece so touching because the idea of appreciating a person for who he/she is has been on my mind a lot lately. Everyone has a self-constructed mental picture of who you are. Or who you should be. I don't like shoulds. The surest way to make me do the opposite is tell me I should do something. There was a time when I was less sure of myself, more pliable. You don't like my hair? I'll change it. You think I'm too reserved? I can fix that. But not anymore. I'm not good at being anything other than myself, flaws and all. Maybe I swear too frequently, maybe I have too many tattoos, maybe I'm too opinionated, maybe I'm too stubborn. But, if I'm okay with it, you have to be, too. Love it or leave it.

The best friendships, though, are the ones who see you even more clearly than you see yourself. My friend Melissa is one of those people. Saturday evening, we were talking about a relationship that will never happen because the other person wants me to be everything but who I am. The fierceness of her response was breathtaking. "I hate that!" she said, "You have worked too hard to be the person you are. You've evolved into this really beautiful amazing person, and it makes me angry to think someone doesn't appreciate that." I was taken aback. We've known each other for seven years now, and I suppose in that time, I have spent significant amounts of time coming to terms with who I am and who I want to be. What was amazing is that we've shared that journey together and recognize its value. This girl has come miles since I first met her, too. Obstacles have presented themselves for her more than the average person, but she's surpassed every one of them and come back for more. She's learned that if she's made it this far there's nothing she can't do. I get fired up the same way when I feel like she's not getting her due. I equate that fire with true friendship.

I'm a (semi-)social person; I have lots and lots of acquaintances and sorta friends. Some friends whose mettle has never been tried. I've had "best" friends who have screwed me over or fallen off the face of the earth into their own lives. Whatever. It happens. Looking back at friendships that have faded or ceased to exist, it was hard to tell at the time which ones would survive and which ones would fail. Sometimes you can't tell when you are in the middle of something that it's a convenience thing, not a meaningful friendship.

But what counts is this: I've also got a handful of friends who I know will be there when the shit hits the fan. No matter what. The people who would get out of bed to come pick me up if my car breaks down. The people who have listened to me cry over a broken heart. The people who wouldn't leave my side if I were really really sick. These are friends who have stood by each other when members of the group have come out, gotten pregnant unexpectedly, or experienced profound loss. No judgement, no I-told-you-so's, no unsolicited advice, just unconditional friendship.

It's easy to get wrapped up in myself and the little world I've created for myself. But something I want to work on this year is acknowledging how much those core people mean to me. So little else in life matters. Hmmm...maybe that's another "this I believe" for me.

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