People are, of course, the point of existence. What happens to them is important. We love. We fear and fight and fuck things up. We build extraordinary lives and worlds and monuments and homes. We destroy them even more quickly when we decide to go that way. We build as many bombs as we do communities.
Horatio, The Alien described us well: “You are a remarkable people. You are beautiful. You are savage. You are kind. You are ruthless and heartless. You are so many things. There is much to fill the void.”
So, I grant the importance of People. On the other hand, when I get involved with them too deeply, there is always a price to be paid.
The Price of Love is always pain. This is unavoidable. If you love someone, you will, even if everything goes unbelievably perfectly, go your separate ways. One of you will die. The other will suffer unbearable pain. Someone called grief “love with nowhere to go.” That’s a good definition. David Gerrold suggests that after such a loss we must create a new identity. The old one has been shattered. We are now ourselves minus this loved one. He believes this can be accomplished within a month or so. That’s probably true in many cases, and false in many others. It depends on who you are.
There is a myth that continuous public suffering is evidence of how deeply you loved someone. It’s not. Cordelia told us, “Love and be silent.” Obviously when you are first struck down by the loss you are entitled to extra care and sensitivity. Any decent person will grant you that for some time. “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between,” as Harper Lee told us.
After some time, however, we need to continue through the world. People are not going to wallow in your grief with you for the rest of time. It doesn’t help you. And, honestly, it brings the rest of us down. Every minute spent in your tears is one less minute of our own happiness. You’re certainly entitled to as many of those minutes as you need… for a limited time. After that, you need to let the rest of us have the happy minutes we can collect. Anyone who finds happiness in your suffering is to be avoided at all costs. This doesn’t mean we stop missing our loved one. I’ve never “gotten over” the death of my father or my dog, Melanie. I don’t, however, need all my friends to commiserate with me for the rest of my life. It’s my private suffering, and I deal with it in private ways. Dad floats over my right shoulder every time I’m at the keyboard. Melanie still looks out at me from her urn. Speedy Shine interviewed her a few months ago. Going on about my loss forever is going to keep me from finding the new Fred I need to be. And it’s going to be exhausting for my friends. It won’t be long before they find much less time for me. I wouldn’t blame them.
This is equally true for the loss of a relationship while both of you are still alive. Yes, it’s heartbreaking and devastating when you lose someone you thought loved you, and there is much work to be done to put yourself back together, but wallowing in the puddle of the horrible unfairness of the situation accomplishes nothing. You stay stuck in neutral, and you keep the rest of us from getting on with our lives when you need us to listen to you.
There are those who are nearly addicted to suffering publicly. We feel the need to let someone see us crying about something nearly every day, probably because it gives us a sort of validation of our pain. And many of us have quite a bit about which to cry. We’ve had horrible experiences that no one should have to endure.
As my friend, Chris, said the other night while we were deep into a discussion of the Art we were creating, “Everyone has their Shit.” Yours is different from mine. It may be more. It may be worse. It may not be as bad. I swear I’m not remotely interested in competing with you. Bad things have happened to you. Bad things have happened to me. Bad things have happened to that guy over there, and that girl behind the curtains has had a really lousy time.
You are certainly entitled to support from your friends from time to time, as needed. To love someone is to be there when they need to talk. To use the time they give you to suffer loudly is to make them sad, to make them tired, and to keep them from accomplishing what they want in their lives. To the extent that it helps you, it’s time we’re more than willing to spend. You’re valuable, and we want to help you become whole again.
It’s one thing to let the pain out once or twice so that, like vomiting when suffering from food poisoning, it’s out of your system and you can begin to get better. That’s absolutely a valuable activity. Pushing it beyond that, however, borders on abuse. If you need to keep vomiting, as I do when I go into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, you need, as I do when I go into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, professional medical help. You don’t need to keep ruining your friend’s shirt with your puke. You need to get better help. The other problem with People is that when you become deeply involved with them someone is going to make you choose sides in situations that don’t involve you. One friend did something horrible to another friend, and now you’re supposed to join one friend in despising another. Failure to do so is a sign of disloyalty, and now someone, somewhere is going to get angry.
One friend, for example, had sex with another friend’s husband, and now you’re supposed to hate the adulterer. You don’t get to be friends with them anymore. And there will be others involved, and lines will be drawn, and tribes will be formed, and there will be ugliness. This is something my father taught me to avoid.
If it’s not my business, I’m staying out of it because nothing Good will come from my involvement. I will accomplish nothing beyond increasing the melodrama. I will perpetuate its continuation. It’s between the husband, the wife, and the person with whom the husband cheated. They are the ones involved. They need to reach their resolutions without my interference.
The best I can do is allow my friends to express their feelings in a way that doesn’t involve my condemnation. No, I’m not going to tell someone that what they did was wrong. They didn’t do it to me, and I’m not in 6th grade anymore. My friends are adults. They deal with their own situations, and I don’t need to go beat someone up. I’ll be here to help you feel better, as needed, but I’m not going to get dragged into a mud wrestling championship.
Part of this comes from something I’ve learned to ask recently. “What must have happened to that person that I’m glad never happened to me that would cause them to do something so horrible?” Again, everyone has their Shit. We’ve all had experiences that influenced us in ways we would have preferred to avoid. My own experiences have caused me to stay locked in my little cave with my little dog, communicating with the rest of the world in the only way I feel safe. Yours have caused you to find your own way of dealing with the world. So long as neither of us is hurting anyone else, we get to do it the way we believe works best for us. No one gets to tell us what to do. Connection is important to all of us. We don’t want to feel entirely alone. We want to be a part of the world, and we want to be understood and accepted for who we are. Those who do that for us are our friends. They help us in the ways they can, and we do the same for them. Friends are a Pearl of Great Price. Let’s be careful not to abuse that relationship.
And then there is money. We live in a world based around income. The most valuable currency is time, and we trade it for the funds we need to survive.
When someone spends their money to help us, there is a feeling that they now have a sort of ownership in us. This is true whether it’s your employer or a friend who helps keep you afloat. And because we know we need that money if we’re going to have a place to live and food to eat, we are often all too willing to allow them to feel that way. “Just keep helping. Please!”
I have no money. I started to get ahead just a little bit, and I became less worried about making it to the end of the month. The universe promptly took that away. My rent went up just shy of 50% in a single month, and all of my security vanished instantly.
I am beyond ecstatic that I get so much help from my friends. They refuse to let me die. One of my Unofficial Patron Saints sends me way more than I believe she can afford every month, and when my rent went up, so did the money she sends. And she asks precisely nothing of me. I send her a thank you note every month, and we exchange pleasantries, and then I’m free to go about my business. My gratitude is off the charts, and I can think of nothing she could ask that I would decline to do. She simply never asks. What an amazing woman Miss Maudie is. I have other friends who have helped me greatly. Many have been content with my gratitude. I have one, however, who made a massive contribution to my success a few years ago, and now he is angry that I have become as successful as I am while he lives in poverty.
I have no money to give him. I have time, but he wants me to use it in ways that will be psychologically damaging to me, and I won’t do that. There are any number of things I have done and will do to help him, but I won’t return to the darkness from which I have finally risen. I’m moving forward. That’s the name of the podcast that launched this one. I continue to do what they finally stopped doing.
If this makes me look bad, so be it. I didn’t get here alone, but neither is any single person responsible for where I have managed to get, and I won’t stop being Fred to appease anyone.
Love isn’t created with money or gifts. It is created by shared interests, dreams, and emotional connection. It’s about knowing someone else understands and supports who you are. Love isn’t about expectations. It’s about being the person who’s there to talk, to laugh, to spend time enjoying this brief pageant we call life. Anything else is a façade.
In an Ideal World, money would have nothing to do with survival. We would all be secure in our homes and our food and our medical needs, and we would be allowed to live our lives as we see fit, so long as we aren’t hurting anyone else.
That’s not the world we have… Yet. I’m not done trying to create it. I hope you’re not either. Let’s love each other and help to expand everyone’s freedom. I can think of nothing better we can do.