By Kellie Schorr
It’s the most important two-dollar vase in the world. It wasn’t supposed to be. Lynn picked it up at Goodwill for pocket change because the shimmering glass fit so perfectly with the blue linen weave fabric on her living room sofa.
She loved that sofa, not simply because of its comfortable luxury, but it was also one of the few pieces of furniture she kept from the divorce. It’s gone now. The sofa, the matching chairs, the TV, the Picasso lithograph her mother gave when she graduated from college, the pictures, the love notes, the recipes, the condo, even the car—gone, gone, gone.
On her last harried trip through the door of her beloved home, she grabbed the little vase and climbed into a rescue boat. The flood waters rose. The dam broke. Everything—every thing—was gone.
“Lynn, how’s the new place?” Mirna asks, lifting a daiquiri in frosted glass, so much like the one Lynn once had in her mini-bar.
“It’s good. I’ve got all the new stuff set up, and I’ve met a few of the neighbors.”
“Honey, you’re stronger than Atlas,” Jennifer adds. “Speaking of, we have got to see that new Channing Tatum movie…”
They giggle and laugh, talking about grandkids and book clubs, summer shorts and the bartender’s hazel eyes. She fades further and further from the conversation with these friends she’s loved for most of her life. They are the women who walked up the aisle in bright flowing dresses on her wedding day, and ten years later took her straight from the courthouse to a pub when the settlement was finalized. She breathes relief when it is time to leave.
“I’m not going to lunch with the girls anymore,” Lynn tells her sister on the phone that night. “They just don’t get me.”
A frustratingly common characteristic of the amazing creatures we are is our tendency to isolate ourselves at the very moment we need others the most.
As the flood waters of samsara sweep through our lives carrying the diagnosis, the job loss, the dementia of a loved father, or death of a dear friend, and it not only divides us from a good night’s sleep, it runs right through the relationships we expected to be the raft.
What do we do when we realize the people around us will never really understand what we feel when we are standing in the rain? We usually don’t have enough energy to gather the tools for our own restoration. How will we ever build a bridge to those who no longer “get us”?
Do You Get Yourself?
“Yes, attachment causes suffering. I know they were just ‘things’ and I’m lucky to be alive,” Lynn says bitterly, “but they were my things and along with them, a part of me is gone, too.”
There are a lot of myths out there about positivity and “personal strength.” It’s easy to exchange authentic, vibrant feelings for a Pinterest quote about the “attitude of gratitude.” There’s a lot of social reward these days for smiling in sorrow. The truth is: the more you fake, the less you feel. Soon you are lost in a forest of “what you should be,” and accidentally leave the path of who you are.
To build your side of the bridge, be honest with yourself. It’s okay to be pissed off about impermanence. It’s normal to shiver when you learn they are closing out your job. You don’t have to keep it all together when the doctor says “cancer.” Vulnerability, hurt, and fear are not weakness. They are the strength of the truth in your heart.
Your side of the bridge looks like this: All I have to be, right now, is exactly who I am.
Do you Give Yourself?
“I think they are tired of hearing my whining anyway,” Lynn continues. “They talk about everything except the flood. They think it’s over. I think it will never go away.”
When you’re trying to relate to friends and family who are clueless to what you’re going through, are you giving yourself to the process of their understanding? That’s a bitter pill. You’re in a rough place. You don’t have the resources to build their side of the bridge, too. Then you discover they don’t know how to do it by themselves.
Just as we have myths of what we should be, others have myths about how they should be as well. “Don’t mention it,” we are told. “Just talk about happier things. They probably want a break from the sadness.” “Say positive affirmations. Try to make them laugh. Laughter is healing.”
None of those are bad ideas or wrong intentions. They usually aren’t helpful either. What we need from people in the depths of our pain is simply for them to be with us. That’s what compassion is—walking through the present moment together.
Hopefully your friends will know this but if not, you may have to intentionally invite them to be where you are. You can say:
“I really need to talk about how lost I feel.”
“I know you can’t solve this. I just want a listener right now.”
“I need a break. Let’s talk about something else for a while. Tell me about your puppy.”
That kind of raw, honest communication is really one of the gifts we give to each other in relationship. Their side of the bridge looks like this: I will do my best to tell you where I am and what I need.
The Middle Way
“No, I haven’t asked about how they feel about it,” Lynn scoffs at the question. “They will never really know what it’s like.”
Now that the sides are mortared into place, prepare to build the walk-across. Don’t expect them to heal you. Do allow them to hear you. Speak truth, plainly and with compassion. Don’t presume to know what they think about all this. Do ask, “Is this too hard for you to hear?” Breathe. When you struggle for what you still have in common or to create connection, remember—we all breathe. Start there.
They can’t “get you” if you don’t get yourself. They can’t “receive you” if you don’t give yourself. It’s not all on you—most loved friends are struggling, just as hard as you are, to swim through the current and reach out. Work together. That’s where the magic begins.
No matter what flood you go through, a watermark is going to remain. It will change in meaning, over time and love, from “what I lost” to “what I learned.”
Until then, build as many bridges as you can.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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