Accidentally

My dad left only about two hours ago, and already I have realized that I accidentally left my handicapped parking placard in his vehicle.  I suppose this is one accident less than the two from his visit just weeks before, when he accidentally took my spare keys and accidentally left his air mattress and pump.  Regardless, it seems there is always something left or taken without us having meant for it to be so.

 

While he was here I accidentally got him a parking ticket.  I meant to move the car from one street to another, since one is free at night and another is permitted parking only at night.  I was late in my duty and saw the ticket writer moving along the street as I went out to move the car. Too late. The ticket was already written and he wouldn’t take it back and offer a warning instead.

 

A few hours later we were off to lunch in the backseat of the vehicle of my friend and his husband.  It was snowing out, and we were all pleased that the “snow” function on the new Range Rover worked exceptionally and kept us from sliding into the intersection where the road was slick from precipitation.  Unfortunately, the vehicle behind us was not a Range Rover with a snow function to choose, and we were struck from behind. Nobody was hurt, thankfully. (Though I have had a headache since and am inclined to claim that being jostled has thrown my vertebrae off center–but know that my physical therapist can just push those babies back into place next session and likely fix the problem, so I’m not ready to file an injury suit just yet.)  But it took some time to exchange information, and our friends needed to go to the police station after lunch and file reports for the collision, and will need to take the car in for repair.

 

Accidents happen often.  

 

And not just the collision kind, but the kind where you aren’t paying attention to your things or your words or your actions with enough focus to make certain that you aren’t saying or doing something that is potentially harmful.

 

My dad and I also discussed, at length, the type of accident where people’s words are accidentally stupid or hurtful.  Because people don’t seem to pay close enough attention to their surroundings to understand that they are leaving something out.  And generally the thing left out is compassion for a person’s situation–empathy.

 

There are so many statements that have come across our paths that are unintentionally hurtful.  

 

I understand how you feel.  You must be lonely. When are you going to find a new partner?  You should [insert obvious medical advice we have already tried].  Your partner/parent/child is in a better place. You’re young, so you you’ll find someone new.  

 

All of these things are meant to be kind, but they accidentally cause even more wounds.  They aren’t helpful. And what would be helpful is simply to not try to identify or give advice, but to say that you don’t understand, but that you are ready and able to listen, to perform household tasks, and to help in practical ways that give a person time to rest, heal, and grieve in the ways they need to do so.  

 

As a chronically ill individual, I have a whole set of ways that people accidentally offend, atop the normal process of grief and singleness.  I have people who tell me to get well soon–which I won’t. I have the constant onslaught of home remedies and stories of “my [loosely connected acquaintance or distant relative] who did thing X and was healed of their illness, which are unsolicited and annoying, because I have a team of 13 specialists who oversee my care and some raw honey is not going to be the thing that all of them missed as a magic cure.  The other night my cousin said, “If they keep looking around the doctors are going to find things wrong.” Later my dad laughed at me as I recounted that statement and how badly I wanted to reply that medicine doesn’t work that way, and I am not a used car. Things must actually be wrong for them to diagnose me with an illness. They don’t make up illnesses so they can bill you for a new pancreas! It was another accidentally, really weirdly, delivered comment that made me feel like my situation isn’t one that others take seriously or treat with validity and respect.  

 

I am not saying at all that my cousin, or others, don’t take me seriously or treat me as valid and respected.  Quite the contrary! But somehow, when it comes to these statements, their care for me and their understanding of and care for my situation don’t align.  They accidentally get it wrong.

 

So, how do we change that?

 

I wish I had a clearer answer.  Because I can shout empathy, listening, and validation from the rooftops all day long, and people will say, “I’m a great listener and your feelings are totally valid.”  But the disconnect remains. I think there is a big difference between hearing what a person says and feeling what a person says.

 

My dad is of the mind that until you go through grief of this depth, you can’t understand and will continue to view things in a way that is incomplete–and, therefore, will continue to say the wrong things.  

 

I’m not of that mind.  I’m not of that mind because I know people who suffer physical pain and still don’t have empathy for my physical pain.  And I’m not of that mind because I have a few friends who are deeply aware of what I am feeling, even when I am doing what I believe is a good job at hiding my true feelings–they see through my act.  I’m not of that mind because people who have suffered similar experiences to mine can shut down in ways that I cannot, and can ignore the past in ways that I cannot, leaving no room for empathy, even though they know exactly how it feels to experience that pain.  

 

Instead, I think that we all have the capacity for empathy, but very few of us have the strength of will and the courage to open ourselves in that manner.  Because doing so means deliberately seeking to feel the pain of others. It means to share in their sorrows–not just on some surface level where you offer the accidentally insensitive platitudes, but truly feeling that sorrow.  And why in the world would we want to add sorrow to our lives??!!

 

But the thing that is important about sharing in sorrows is that you also get to share in joys.  When you share in the sorrows in deep and meaningful ways, you also share in joys in deep and meaningful ways.  So, letting in the suffering means letting in the celebration. Letting in some darkness means flooding the space with light!  Who would want to miss out on that??!!

 

The people who see me in my darkest moments also are invited to share in my brightest and most glorious moments.  And those are really fabulous! I pour so much love into the people who love me truly that it is almost ridiculous.  I’ve probably loved some people so well that it has frightened them away, because they were not accustomed to such unfettered, unconditional love and it felt awkward or foreign.  But those people also dealt with me in the depths of my despair, which was extremely difficult, I know. And the reward isn’t likely to be equal to the expense, but that is just the way that life works out, I think.  

 

The risk in life is often greater than the reward.  But that does not mean that it isn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean the experiences and the people and the adventures are not worth it.  Because the idea that we shouldn’t move forward unless the reward is greater than the risk is one that was manufactured by the modern man, not one that has always been a part of humanity.  It is an accident of our economy that we weigh the risks and decide that the safe bet is to not open up. We keep closed our bank accounts, our doors, and our hearts because the risk seems to outweigh the reward.  But in doing so, we have made a grave error. Because life happens in the accidents, more often than not. We cannot plan for every outcome. We cannot keep “safe” by keeping distant. And keeping ourselves closed off from everything and everyone just makes us more susceptible to being left alone in our tragedies, should they arrive accidentally.  

 

We need to open up and find that empathy and feel for others and with others.  We need to share sorrows and joys. We need to stop weighing what we think will be the consequences and throw the risk/benefit analysis out the fucking window.  Life isn’t a series of rewards assessments. Life is often a challenge. But it is often an adventure!

 

So go out there and make your accidents be ones that aren’t based on selfish, closed-hearted living that causes offense to those who are suffering.  Make your accidents be the kind that are derived from throwing caution to the wind and running headlong into feelings and actions that let you know the deep lows and the exhilarating highs that life has to offer us as human beings.  Because that is amazing and wonderful, and, I believe, what we were designed to experience.

 

Use that empathy.  Feel deeply. And experience a full life.

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Making Enemies and Infuriating People

I have a friend who often uses the hashtag #makingfriendsandinfluencingpeople, which I believe is based on a book about doing just that—using specific strategies to create connection and influence others.  I also believe that it was a book popular within business circles some years ago, so I have suspicions that the influence part was what was stressed, and the getting what you want from others is the point of using the strategies.  I don’t know how much we can then call that “friendship”.  (But I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to its tone or effectiveness with certainty.)

My friends—the true and real and lasting ones—are people whom I suffer with and rejoice with through all sorts of circumstances.  And I don’t think that a book of strategy for connections would have been useful in the development of those relationships, because they were forged in fire, in many ways, and that forging was often horribly uncomfortable.  Really, the way that we became friends was by not appeasing one another, and by venturing into dark waters together … some of which I thought would drown us both and destroy our connection.  But the thing about being willing to sacrifice your friendship for the good of your friend is that it strengthens the bond with the people who are best for you, and offers those who would not be your friend through both thick and thin the opportunity to walk away.

I was recently speaking with a dear friend via Skype, and we questioned how we became friends at all, since we were both very closed to connection and guarded and mistrusting and walled off at the time.  But, as we discussed it, I realized that sharing mutual distrust for humanity was what bonded us.  And that sounds a bit weird, but we created a connection out of not connecting.  We shared uncomfortable space.  We were both different.  We were both damaged.  We were both in need.  We both knew frightening dangers and horrible pain and devastating events in life.  And because we shared all of this, we were able to quickly dive into the dark waters together.

Other friends have been less quick to dive in.  Some friendships were not cemented until years without communication had passed, and the realization that the challenges the other had placed upon us were meant to love us, and not to harm us, and the remorse and the forgiveness and the forgetting of the division and distance made the bonds strong.

Suffering plays a big part in friendship, because the best way to connect is to break together and to heal together.

Religious texts mention this frequently.  Warnings against fair-weather friends, and commands to support one another, and models of rising and falling together abound, not just in one religion, but in many.  Life together means a life of ups and downs together.

I think that one of the reasons we fail, and make enemies instead of friends, is that we react harshly when we are incapable of rising and falling together.  When we think that individualism is of high importance, and we refuse to imagine that those falling are doing so because that is half of life, but believe that falling is a moral failure, we speak in ways that harm others.  When we are falling, and nobody will hold us as we do so, we sometimes lash out in what looks like anger, but is truly fear at its core.  When we are afraid of falling, we pretend to be rising, and we become disingenuous and dishonest and untrustworthy, which breaks apart bonds and ruins relationship.

We make enemies and infuriate people when we don’t allow ourselves to enter the dark waters together.  When we avoid the falling half of life, and try to wish away the times of struggle and the dangers and horrors that accompany life together, we cannot treat one another in positive ways.  We make up excuses and judge individuals harshly and create scales of worth and value or hierarchies of wrongs and sins and evils in order to justify our refusal to join one another in the sorrows, and be half-friends who only stand in the moments of joy or praise or pride with others.

I am in a season that lacks joy or praise or pride, and others use the scales and hierarchies in attempts to discredit me, so they don’t have to accept that this season—this falling—can happen to any of us at any time.  They hurt me with accusations and define me with degradations, in the name of fairness and righteousness and, at times, even in the name of god.  And I don’t quite understand the instinct to distance one’s self from the one falling.  It seems like far more work to uphold the excuses and the judgments and the scales and the hierarchies than to simply hold onto one another as we fall and as we rise.

I understand that the dark waters are a bit frightening, and that it takes work to swim through to the other side.  But many of us aren’t offered the chance to ignore those waters.  Some of us have been drowning in those dark waters since we were small children.  Others of us wade in the dark waters daily due to lack of resources or abusive acts against us or illnesses or addictions or living in the midst of violence or deep loss.  But those who have a choice, and those who choose not to venture into that space are failing the ones who are falling, and pretending at goodness by attaching themselves to those that are rising.  Being that fair-weather half-friend makes a liar of you, because your joy and praise and pride is not your own, but it is stolen from another.

As one who has been in the dark waters for a lifetime, I want to share something with you.  It is terrible and desperate and contains horrors … and you should long to dive in.  Making friends and influencing people is meaningless if it is this false, half-friend sense of friendship, and the only influence is yours upon others, and not theirs upon you.  Diving into dark waters builds relationships that last and that stand firm in the face of overwhelming circumstances.  Diving into dark waters, and holding one another while we are falling and while we are rising, offers us the fullness of relationship that superficial connections cannot achieve.  Trust, boundaries, vulnerabilities, honesty, and deep love can only accompany these dark-water friendships.  Everything else is insufficient, and you are missing out on love and life if you don’t have people in your life who are holding you while you rise and while you fall—who don’t attend your struggles the way they attend your happiness, who come to the parties and not the funerals.

This is the fullness of love—the “unconditional” that we hear about, but rarely experience.  Rising and falling together.  Suffering and celebrating together.  And refusing to hold on to any judgments or scales or hierarchies.  Wading in the dark waters, and connecting in the midst of that murky river, with walls stripped down and conditions removed and humility and trust and the knowledge that brokenness is not all-defining, but that we can build a beautiful love from the bits and pieces, is a most fabulous use of time and energy.

I don’t often make friends and influence people.  I live a relatively humble life, and I don’t get out into the world to make connections very often.  And sometimes I make enemies and infuriate people, but not for the reasons listed earlier in this post, but because I push back at people’s refusal to accept the existence and the pervasiveness and the importance of the dark waters, and I try to break down the judgments and scales and hierarchies that some hold more dear than love.  But I seek, every moment, to be the type of person who holds humanity in high regard, and who seeks to hold every human I meet as they rise and fall as a result.

I don’t always succeed.  Because even as I seek to break down judgments, scales, and hierarchies, I was conditioned to hold them in higher esteem than humanity and love.  So I know that it is a fight to continue to hold everyone as they rise and fall.  I know that it isn’t easy.  I know it doesn’t always come naturally at first, and there are days when you will revert back to the scales or judgments by default (and you are usually overcome with shame when you realize you have done so).  However, every moment of that fight and every discomfort that results from diving into the dark waters is worth it.

Love—in the most deep and pure and deconstructed form—is worth it.

Rising and falling together is love.  Meeting needs is love.  Standing together in the darkest of moments is love.  And if you don’t brave being in the deep, you won’t find love.  You will find the half-friends who let you remain unchallenged in the good times, but abandon you in the difficult times.

When the deep rises up and you find yourself wading the dark waters, you want to be held by true love, and friends who are there for the whole of your experience.  And you want to hold onto others as they rise and fall.  Because a deeper, richer, more full life is the reward for holding on.

I want that life.  I want those friends.  I want that love.

Do you?

Dare to dive in.