Being a Friend

Nov 06 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

The words "friend" and "community" and "ally" get thrown around a lot. I've got a lot of responses to the various deep thoughts that I read on the matter, but they generally fall into two categories. The first is the scrooge response of "screw them all". The second is the ultra-scrooge-response "really screw them all". No, not really. I guess it can be unicorns farting rainbows. Just not often.

One of my oldest and most wonderful friends sent me an upworthy article. We joke that we have to be friends, because we know where the bodies are buried. One of the nicest things about getting older is that there are people in your life that you have known for 20 or 30 years.

Here is the link to the article she sent me. It got past my scroogy-little heart. In part because it demolishes one of my least favorite things to hear: "everything happens for a reason". No one who has lost someone, really lost someone to death, departure, disease, or drugs believes that. Of course you can grow from bad things, but that's not why it happened.

My personal model of the universe is that it is a very, very large dice game. Any individual event can be traced from proximate to more distal causes. This person chose to have a drink or six and get in his car and drive recklessly through the streets, and arrived at a particular corner at exactly the same time as this other person crosses the street. We can follow the path backwards to the decision to drink and why that happened in this person's life. We can follow the path that made the other person leave their apartment at exactly the wrong time, deeply thinking about something that had happened the day before. We can look at what happened the day before and the problems that the alcoholic had. But, to the outside world, to me moving through life, and importantly to each of the people involved, its just chance, a throw of the dice, that the other arrived at exactly the same place at exactly the same time.

If by "things happen for a reason" you mean that trace of events that led two people, one of them drunk and driving the wrong way up a small street at a dreadful speed, to be in the same place, then yes, there is a reason. But that's a trivial interpretation of "for a reason" If you, however, say this to the spouse or the parent or the child of the person who was killed, it may be true in the most trivial sense, but it is cruel beyond reason.

Say you discover someone you were supposed to protect was being abused years ago. It happened despite your conscious and instinctive efforts to protect. In fact, at the time all your efforts went well beyond what your "friends" think you should have done. "It happened for a reason" sounds awfully like:  "You fucked up. You are a dreadful person". You didn't know. It isn't an excuse. It is what was at the time. (Let's not argue about "really knowing and pretending" versus "not knowing". There's a range there. Accept what I'm saying here.) That someone, particularly a young person, should have suffered for a reason that involves grown-up growing up, is beyond contempt. Justifying this on religious grounds (your deity has a greater purpose for you, and using this child as a pawn so you can progress in life) is the ultimate relinquishing of what makes us human: responsibility for one's own life in the face of that randomness.

The randomness of the world makes it cruel. There are billions of people doing things for their own reasons that have nothing to do with whatever reasons you have for doing things. And sometimes people intersect, at random. What the person who lost needs to hear is not some admonishment to grow. They do not need to be told to let the event sink in as a fucking good thing.

One of the quotes from the article:

But loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it's hardened me....  my pain has never gone away, I've just learned to channel it.

This is so very true. I have gotten harder as I get older. The part of the message that hit me hardest (and I think the message from my friend):

I've grieved many times in my life. ... The ones who helped — the only ones who helped — were those who were simply there.


2 responses so far

  • Zuska says:

    Preach it, sister.
    I would like to make "everything happens for a reason" illegal. Also, "when god closes a door he opens a window." Barf.

  • chall says:

    so true. thanks for the article!

    One of the things I've realized over the years (that have made me harder and maybe a tad bit cynical) is that it's hard to "just be there" and not being able to "fix it" (especially for some people). Some people don't get it, that it's part of why it's so important to the person who is grieving since they kind of know (?) that there is no fixing possible... They want to feel like they've helped; so they blurt out these comments "everything happens for a reason", "open a door" etc. The notion that "there is nothing you can say that will fix this" is so scary to them that they resent the whole idea. Surely there has to be a purpose, a bigger meaning with all this pain? 'Because they couldn't deal if it happened to them unless there was a meaning....

    Well, that's my take on it anyway. And I hate feeling helpless and not being able to fix it. However, I've realized that you do do things when being there. You provide support, especially when not saying anything. Just the time and space being there means something. They are not alone in their grief and the sharing in itself can alleviate a little.

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