I think this is the first time I’ve seriously hesitated before writing about something. It’s not political and it’s not religious; I just consider the feelings of those I might alienate or confuse. But I’ve never let fear stop me in the past, so why start now?
It’s the fires in our lives that melt us to the point of desperation where we’re willing to learn. It’s the heat under our bellies that pushes us to adapt or to go down in those flames, forever insisting that we know what is true and what is right, unwilling to examine why it isn’t working out for us.
When my friends are licked by the flames of personal trial, I do not fear. It is necessary for almost everyone I know, and the very next step is change, revolution, understanding and growth. My friends may not be able to see it, but I always can. I’ve been through it so many times that I know what’s coming, like feeling the next rung of a well-known staircase in the dark. I don’t worry and I don’t fret. At most, if the people I care about need it, want it, and ask for it, I may gently nudge them in the right direction.
It’s when things appear to be going well that I become concerned. I still don’t fear and I still don’t worry, but I do somewhat grit my teeth. The danger of apparent success is that it allows us to shuffle along, to scrape by, feeding off the occasional juicy crumb that life throws us without ever knowing that there is a feast on the other side, just waiting for us to find it. It erects the appearance of happiness just enough for us to stop looking for anything better. And so we carry on, crumb to crumb, until we we’re forty years old, have gathered enough experience with crumbs to know that they’re meager and do not satiate the hunger and then we decide to go buy a fancy car, have an affair with our secretary and call it a mid-life crisis. The crisis was there all along. We just lose the ability to medicate it.
Whatever our particular pleasure of choice, whether it’s our success in our careers, romantic relationships, or compliments on our wit or appearance, as soon as we get an adequate dose it’s the equivalent of a hit of cocaine. We’re drinking vodka through a firehose. It completely clouds our judgment, obfuscates reality and certainly impairs our ability to learn. Teach people when they’re about to judge, about to pull the trigger or drink the Kool-Aid. Teach people when they’re getting divorced or on their 18th affair. Teach people when they’re broke and homeless (maybe feed them first, in that instance).
Do not teach people when they’re experiencing a success. Not only is it utterly ineffective, but cruel and unusual, too. I might very well know how the act goes but who I am to come along and ruin the story for someone else? If you don’t know the feast exists, the crumbs are all you’ve got. What do I think I’m going to do? Go and rob someone of that one morsel of comfort and strength? It took me a while, but I’ve learned better. You smile and step in line to offer your sincere congratulations with as much enthusiasm as you can muster.
And anyhow, if it took me eight suicide attempts before I could get to the point where I was willing to entertain the idea of doing things differently, I can’t exactly begrudge that to anyone else, can I? It takes what it takes, and a lot of times it takes hitting the complete rock bottom. Who knows how far that bottom goes for each individual?
But you know, sometimes it just sucks to watch someone you really care about go through the ups. It’s worse than watching them live through the downs because you know that they are going to end. And you know that it goes upwards from there. But I’m equally aware that the high will also end. From what I can remember, each successive crushed hope was more bitter than the last. You want better for the people you care about. You want for them the kind of unshakable happiness that does not ebb and flow with change in circumstance.
Lately in my life I’ve sheltered myself from getting to close to friends so that I don’t have to watch them make the decisions that I know will cost them later. I guess this means that I’m overcoming that tendency. But it doesn’t make it suck any less in the moment.