How many times have one of your pals said they were going to do something outrageous, and you rolled your eyes, took a sip of your drinky-poo and thought silently and cynically to yourself, “Yah, rrrrrrrright!”?
Isn’t it ironic that just last night I was having a few drinky-poos myself? I was with two of my friends. One, my best friend, I’ve known since I was 12, the other, a friend who has known me since I was blissfully floating in utero. In fact, this friend was my ‘kindergarten mentor’, and helped me get in trouble for the first time from a teacher – for talking and harmonizing Beach Boys songs during nap time. These ladies know me well, but do we know one another too well?
If you’re one of my friends, you’ve rolled your eyes and “yah-righted me” many times. Who can blame you really? In my teens I was going to have six children with my high school sweetheart. Three boys. Three girls. All with alternating first names starting with Z,A,Z,A,Z,A . I failed miserably at that, and the universe saved six kids from a lifetime of hating their own names.
In my early twenties I was going to have four children and home school them while raising chickens in my back yard. I even sent away for a catalogue of exotic chickens that were said to lay eggs in a rainbow of different colours. Martha Stewart did, why couldn’t I? Shortly after that I was going to finish my PhD in liberation theology. Nope.
In my thirties I was going to give having a family one last kick at the can and settle for a man who had two wonderful children of his own but was very unhappy with himself. I came up empty handed on that one too. More eye-rolling. Yah-right!
I should have listened to my school-friends when they told me; you’ll have lots of boyfriends, six is too many, those are stupid names. I should have listened to my mother in-law when she told me to just enjoy my family. I should have listened to my older and wiser friends when they told me that the guy was an ego-maniac and they were worried about me.
Le sigh indeed. They knew me too well.
But what if we didn’t know one another that well? What if you’d just met your best friend, or your brother, or your mom, and they told you they were applying to graduate school, or having their sixth child, or getting really excited to finally meet the man of their dreams after years and years of being alone?
As long as you’re not a world-class gold-medalling arse, you’d likely choose one of the following;
“Oh my goodness, that’s great!”
“Wow, that takes a lot of guts, you should be proud of yourself.”
“I’m sure you’ll… get in/be a great parent/have a happy marriage.”
You see, you wouldn’t know them that well, so your instinct would be to believe in them.Why wouldn’t you? I mean after all, only psychopaths and blog writers bullshit complete strangers.
When I told ‘people’ last fall that I was setting out to write a book, there was significant eye-rolling and yah-righting. Except from one friend. One, new friend whom I was just getting to know. They got out their pom-poms, put on their cheering-skirt and belly shirt and said,” Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, Hem-ing-way, has nothin’ on ya!”….or something like that. I was too distracted from seeing a grown man in a cheerleading skirt and belly shirt doing the splits to remember the exact cheer. The novel is in the works, and well on its way to completion.
It was a novel written by this friend that got me to thinking about knowing one another too well. Ironically, the novel is called Empathy. Ok, so, I’m not so cool as to have ony been reminded of this concept of, ‘knowing someone too well’ because I’m a writer and I have friends who are writers. My sore-bum-on-a-church-pew-humiliated-because-my-husband-just-walked out-and-I-was-on-the-Christian-Life-And-Education-Committee at our small community church, also knocked on the door of my conscience. In a very nice church-lady voice it reminded me of a sermon of the same name delivered by my minister. Don’t worry, it’s all ok, my bum, my ego, and my spirituality have recovered.
Empathy – so much more satisfying than pathetic sympathy, and way, way harder to really feel. After all, when we’re not happy with ourselves, it’s hard to be gentle with others. It’s the failures of those close to us that we remember. Very few lives have victories that are noteworthy enough to endure forever as our public ego. We know one another’s failures, shortcomings, and birthrights. These ego-baring experiences are often what truly bond us.
Even after almost forty years of knowing one another, last night, my two friends and I talked and laughed and revealed more of what has built our characters over the years. The same thing we all share in this experience soup called the human condition; abusive parents, substance abuse, bad relationships, body image issues…the list goes on. Despite the hardships, there was new respect around that patio table; for one another, and the incredible resiliency we have developed throughout the years.
You know it and I know it; every family socialize their own, as does every village, town, city, school and community group. How often have you heard someone trying to achieve something, and another from the group say something like, “Oh, ya-right. That’s John’s kid. Didn’t he eat glue in grade school?” Just like that, John’s kid has an unspoken, yet understood, unanimous group vote against him. He swallows his dreams with a slice of church supper pie and a sip of instant coffee. There is no empathy. There is no encouragement. After all, everyone has known John’s kid forever. They know him too well. But when that John’s Kid does something great, makes headlines, gets the revered PhD after his name, or walks on the moon – everyone knows him, and damn, isn’t he great? After all who woulda thunk it,?! John’s kid made a name for himself. Hot diggety-dog-and-kiss-my-petunia.
We’re all just John’s kid to most of the people who have known us for our entire lives. We’ve all been the community voice that punches the cheerleader in the guts and gives someone else’s dreams a double dose of Valium. Shut the hell up for crying out loud! Don’t embarrass yourself by talking about your dreams. Who do you think you are???
Well, I say, I’m sure as hell not John’s kid and neither are you. In my case, my father would get a disgusted look on his face, and the elite of the town (if that’s possible with a population of under 1000),might say, “You haven’t got a pot to piss in. Who do you think you are?”
In my mind I would also ask, “Who do you think YOU are buttgrease?”, and then I’d envision one of their nipples falling off. But, what I would say outloud is, “I’m me.” And that’s enough folks. Just be you; run the marathon, write the book, take the course, lose the weight, sing karaoke, fall hopelessly in love, do it again if you have to, bake, cook, laugh, dream, and remember to cheer on the person next to you whom you know too well. Let your empathy for others be a reminder that you too have dreams. Just keep your history of glue-eating on the down-low.