Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest

I haven't blogged in a while, but I like to think I have a very good, and possibly very original, excuse for it. 

My best friend's son is scheduled for brain surgery on Monday.  Over the past two weeks, I've been calling her constantly, and constantly feeling more or less helpless.  How do you support someone under such circumstances?  Can friendship ever be enough?  Can it even be adequate?

They say that, if you want a good friend, you have to be a good friend.  I think that, in my experience, the exchange and reciprocity of a good friendship is always ongoing, mutual and, at times, nearly instinctive.  I have never had to think so much about what being a good friend would involve or entail, until faced with my friend's circumstances.

How can I support her, and her son?  How can I offer her a counterweight to life's overwhelming heaviness right now?

I remember when I was suffering myself, what made the greatest impression on me was the fact that, when there were no words, my friends still struggled to find something to say.  In the end, the fact that they always continued to try outweighed the words themselves.  Their silence became a comfort because I knew what was behind it.

So often over the past few years, I have felt the meaninglessness of my parents' own suffering, but now, oddly enough, I often feel that what seemed meaningless to me then has had a kind of purpose for me now.  Having gone through what I went through, I've been able to talk to my friend differently than I would have done several years ago.  I can listen to her anger and frustration and suffering in a very different way.

When I hear echoes of my own sadness, magnified a thousandfold, I can wait in silence and let her feel what she feels, without feeling anxious or worried or trying to offer a (non-existent) solution.  I know something about where what she's feeling comes from.  I know that too often, people can't or won't listen to someone in so much pain--not because they don't care, but simply because it comes from a place that is too dark and frightening for them to endure. 

But if we don't endure it, how can they?

In the end, maybe all we have is the importance of being earnest (to borrow a phrase from Wilde and use it in a very different way than he ever intended).  We can only think, constantly, about what it means to be a friend and how best to make that known to the people we care about, and then act on those thoughts and hope, fiercely and determinedly hope, for them.

I found a quote from Winnie the Pooh this week that has helped me think through these ideas.  At one point, Christopher Robin tells Pooh Bear, "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." 

This is the essence and the earnestness of true friendship.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."