Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good Grief

We spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff. We work and work and work in order to buy stuff or pay for stuff that we've already bought. We spend lifetimes apart from the things that are important and the people that we love. A lot of times we buy things that we hope will make spending time around the people we love more fun. We buy things for our loved ones so they will know we love them. We make arrangements to get away from loved ones so we can make more money, and then buy food to eat with them. Largely, we are apart, lonely, wishing we could just feel happy. We wish we weren't social. We even tell people, "I'm kind of a lone wolf. I don't really hang out with anyone." We are ultimately terrified of intimacy, needing it so much, but afraid to indulge it. Masking this with staunch individualism, independence, and a cavalier attitude. The reality is, we need each other. When all's said and done, that's all you get, just this life and the memories and connections you either make or break. And that's it.
I visited my friend last night, in the depths of despair and grief. He recently lost a lot and is trying to piece it back together, attempting to reconcile the fact that life doesn't stop when you lose someone, the world marches on oblivious to your pain. I think the thing that is most heart wrenching is his regret. Now that the person he loved is gone, he just wishes he could have been better at intimacy. He wishes he could have gotten closer, could have allowed himself to ignore that fear of cloistered, claustrophobic, intense shared emotion. After all, there is some responsibility in it. If you're going to be close to someone, you are volunteering yourself to work at understanding and considering their feelings as though they are as true and important as your own. And not only is the effect of this intimacy all you get in the end, it turns out it is one of the single most important aspects of human psychology:

He also talked about vulnerability. He said tragedy makes you feel so vulnerable. Suddenly, every thing that ever made you feel vulnerable in your whole life is there, salient, standing in the room, watching you, blinking. Sure we forget, the images slowly fade, but really the only thing we have to buffer these tragedies is our connection to others. Our desire not only to be close to others, but to allow others to get close. Easier said than done.
I think of my own experiences with intimacy, some of it lovely and confidence building, some of it a scene I would just prefer to look away from, the same intuitive sense that tells me not to look at a Youtube video that will ruin my faith in mankind. I see myself watching a movie in my bedroom alone while Hazel is on the computer in the other room alone. I see myself choosing to text throughout a face-to-face conversation with a friend. Why does this distance seem easier? Why do I avoid people? Why am I so afraid of the very thing I need?
I'm going to push myself through that wall of resistance. I'm going to reach out a little more. It doesn't take some dramatic psychological catharsis. I don't have to join a cult of caring. It's really as simple as saying it. As brief as a hug, as non-imposing as asking someone how they're doing and really listening to the answer. I want the people I love to know that I care. I want to embrace them when I have the impulse to push them away, hug them when I want to scream at them. I only get this one chance, and it's worth a try.


  1. I want to thank you here for hearing and responding to my request for your friendship this past year. It made a real difference for me.

  2. Your friendship has been a total blessing for me!