Fail Safe

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” –Indira Gandhi

I’ve been thinking lately about the nature of failure and forgiveness.

The thing is, I can be selfish.  It’s not intentional, but I have introvert tendencies, and when I get overwhelmed or exhausted, I withdraw my energies… and my powers of observation seem to tank right along with them. (To be honest, they’re pretty weak to begin with.  I’m not very sensitive and tend to miss both verbal and nonverbal cues that other people seem to pick up easily.)

A couple of years ago, I got very sick with a mystery illness that absolutely flattened me for the better part of 6 months. The doctors had all sorts of gloomy predictions for what might be happening, and the stress of dealing with those ideas, along with the endless testing and overall feeling of crappiness led me to pull back on the time I devoted to making sure I stayed connected in my friendships.

I took it one step further, however, and here’s where the selfishness really kicked in: I was so focused on my own issues that I failed to see that someone I loved dearly was really struggling- and what she was going through brought a much deeper pain than any physical issue I was having. Wrapped up in my own problems, I was totally oblivious…until one day, my fog suddenly lifted, and I thought… “Wait. We haven’t really talked about anything of consequence in months. And that’s not normal.”

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Just A Note

“It went on, this lifetime in a box, one letter after another.” ― Nicholas Sparks

Imagine your house was burning, and you had only a few minutes to save the things you felt were irreplaceable. Assume people and pets were already safe, and you could only save what you could carry in one trip. What would you choose?

When I ask people this question, their responses tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. Important documents
  2. Letters and/or photos
  3. Heirlooms

That “important document thing” is the most practical answer; when I ask someone to define “important documents”, they’ll list things like social security cards, birth certificates, title documents, and the like. It does make perfect sense to try to save certain paperwork for record-keeping or legal purposes, so kudos to you people who think with your heads.

Also, you’re in the minority.

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Don’t (Con)Tempt Me

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” — Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

I recently had an, ahem, “conversation” with a well-loved young person in my life about appreciation and gratefulness. Or the lack thereof. (If you have teenagers, you’ve probably had some version of this same conversation.)

I had built a marvelous head of steam. “It’s not only that you don’t recognize my ongoing efforts to love and support you, it’s also that you actually seem to hold these things, and me, in contempt”. (Melodrama, party of one? That’s fine. I own it.)

I expected an eyeroll in response, but instead I got a puzzled look. “I literally have no idea what you’re saying. I don’t even know what that means”.

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Lock and Key

“Communication sometimes is not what you first hear, listen not just to the words, but listen for the reason.” – Catherine Pulsifer

I recently read a book lent to me by a friend, which is always an interesting proposition, because I find that when someone tells me “you’ll love it!”, I frequently don’t.

She made no such claim, only suggested I read it, and while I can’t say I loved it, the story did interest me enough to read all the way through. It follows two young people who move through their high school and college years in an on-again/off-again relationship of sorts that can never seem to find solid footing.

I say a relationship “of sorts”, because they had a very odd dynamic- neither seemed to be able to fully invest in the relationship, but neither would walk away. Their connection was made of misunderstandings, and it seemed that both were purposely obtuse during critical emotional tipping points.

It was so aggravating.

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Safe Harbor

Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words. – George Eliot

How does a friendship start? Do you remember meeting the people who are now your closest friends? I almost always do, because those people play such a vital role in my life.

I met my oldest friend on the school playground, in third grade. She approached me because her mother had advised her to “look for someone who’s alone” to make new friends. I was indeed alone- very alone, in fact, since I’d just moved cross-country, didn’t know a soul, and was facing long, solitary days ahead. We’ve lived thousands of miles apart for many more years than we were ever close together, but even when I’ve been lonely, this lifelong friendship has meant I’ve never been alone. (Undying thanks for that super-timely advice, friend’s mom.)

I connected with another friend due to her son’s thoughtful act; he spoke to my son, a stranger, at the park (Is there a playground theme happening here?), providing words of encouragement that made him feel better in a moment of sadness. When my son told me what had happened, I had to express my appreciation for his kindness- and that conversation served as the beginning of one of my most precious friendships.

I could go on- I find there’s something memorable about how all my close friendships began. (Sometimes, it’s not the first meeting, but a moment when a casual acquaintance clicked over into true friendship.)

What sets these two particular friendships apart is that I have the benefit of being able to actually look at a history of communications with both of them, and it’s very telling.

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The Sound of Silence

You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion. – Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)

Twenty years ago, I scheduled a lunch to introduce two of my friends that had never met. It was a pleasant afternoon, full of good conversation and laughter, but there was one aspect of it that I found unusual and of particular interest.

Within the space of an hour, one of my friends found out things about the other that I had never discovered. Her talent for conversation impressed me then, and years later, I still admire it. She seems to know exactly the right questions to ask; gentle inquiries that uncover the very things people love to talk about or have a passion for- things that bring you true insight into their character. She does more than just put people at ease; you can actually see someone light up as they talk to her. It’s a joy to watch.

For a long time, I attributed this phenomenon to an uncanny ability to draw people out with the perfect topics of conversation. That’s partly true, but over time, I’ve discovered there’s more to her talent.

She also knows how and when to be quiet in conversation.

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