This morning, my old friend and I went for our weekly run. We were both tired, but she came over anyway, and I rallied and laced up my sneakers, and out we went for our just-shy-of-25-minute jaunt north to UMass and then up through town, back to my driveway, where we stretched and kept talking for a while longer, then up to my kitchen, where I poured us both some water and we talked yet some more.
Our weekly run reminds me of when, years ago in Burlington, my friend Nan and I used to meet Friday mornings at my house, ostensibly for sitting practice. We did sit, mind you — usually for 10 or 15, sometimes as long as 20 minutes. And then we picked a card from the Carolyn Myss archetypes deck and talked. And talked and talked and talked. I’d joke that our sitting practice was really just cover for getting together, and it was.
When my life imploded, it was Nan I called, and the friendship that grew up inside of all that sitting and talking was a kind of bedrock. The same is true these days with Susa. The running is our presenting reason for a regular visit, and these visits are the stuff that makes a friendship become bedrock, even one that goes back 30+ years.
We were talking about how you really never know what’s going on in someone else’s world, not unless he or she tells you.
What if we moved through life seeing each other this way? She told me about a video that always makes her partner, a dharma teacher, well up with tears. In it, some guy is having One of Those Days. The kind where everything is hard, the world seems to be against him, conspiring to perpetuate his suffering. He gets cut off in traffic, someone at the coffee shop is rude to him — we’ve all been this person.
Then there’s the second version, with little bubbles above the other people’s heads. The driver of the car that cut off our disgruntled protagonist? Recently lost his wife to cancer. The jerk in the coffee shop ? Going through a brutal divorce.
You’ve probably seen this quote, even likelier in some pretty meme on Pinterest: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” There’s debate about its origin, which attests if anything to its universality and truth.
Where things can sticky, for me, is when I forget this. Because then it becomes easy for my own ego to take center stage (isn’t that where ego loves to hang out?). Historically, it has been really hard for me to have someone be unhappy. As a kid, I hated it when my mom was upset, even if I hadn’t been the one to upset her. Because life is kind in this way, I’ve had lots of practice with this trigger.
To this day, I still have to work on walking away when Aviva is upset or angry, be it with me or for any other reason. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. “I’m getting better,” I want to say, and even there, I hear the plea, the not-so-subtle wish for approval: Look, world, I’m working on it! Look, Ma, no hands!
The good girl in me — I don’t trust her much anymore. She sees through distorted lenses. She might have 99 people who respect her, appreciate her, and enjoy her gifts and foibles alike. But guess what? It’s that 1% that catches her, hooks her, sinks her. Left to her own voices and devices, she’d be a cloying partner, a needy friend, and a helicopter mom. Oy.
The art of detachment. Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business. Complete sentences, like “No.” And, “I don’t want to.” And, “This doesn’t feel good to me.” And, “Best wishes.
Sometimes not everything goes your way, or mine. Maybe even a lot of time. Where did we — where did I — get this idea, that it should?
I think about raising resilient, well-prepared-for-real-life kids, and realize the best and perhaps only way I can do this is to live a real life. Hang the rejection letter on the fridge. Tell them I had an unhappy customer and didn’t understand why and couldn’t fix it because it wasn’t mine to fix. Keep doing my work with as much joy, integrity, and heart as I can. Focus on the 99% not as sugar-coating but because it feels good and fuels me.
I’m not polished. I’m not perfect. I’m not for everyone. You’re not for everyone. Some days are rough, but the truth is, as many beautiful moments happen as sucky ones. It’s just that the latter can eclipse everything if I let them.
What if we all saw those little bubbles over each other’s heads? What if we have one person, just one, who meets us exactly where we are, week after week after week, to sit, to run, or even just to drink coffee and laugh or cry or talk about all the broken and beautiful things until a day comes when oh, do we ever need that friend and there she is, waiting for you with a latte and a hug? What if we wished each other well and walked away when it didn’t feel good, and it was nobody’s fault? What if we were kinder to each other and ourselves, and didn’t take everything so personally?
I’m practicing the art of detachment. And something interesting is happening. It is getting easier to arrive at this freedom: I am here, you are there. This is mine, that is yours. My shadow is a dance partner who’s always pushing me to learn new steps.
It’s almost like she believes in me.