Robert drives the same road each day. He passes the same shops and parks and likely most of the same people and he wonders how and why. At least he wonders why on a good day. Most days though, he’s simply angry with his life.
We get together sometimes and talk.
“How did I get here, how come I’m so fed up and angry? What happened to my life? I had dreams and plans but now I’m so angry I can barely function.
I can’t stand my job, I’m behind on my financial commitments and my marriage is in shambles.
I mean it’s not a total mess, but most of the time we only cope. You know, two people trying to survive, trying to make sense, hoping to do better. Two people who wonder, at least to ourselves, why we’re here, what’s in the future and at times why we bothered to marry at all?
I don’t say it, she doesn’t say it but I know we both think these things. We get lost and wonder why and how to do it better, or even if better is possible.
Most of my life has no resemblance to what I thought it would be.
My children drive me crazy and at times I don’t even want to be a parent. I feel horrible; feeling this is terrible, saying it is beyond comprehension.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids but it’s somehow more than I imagined it would be. Is this what I signed up for? Is it going to get better? Can we find a different way?
Tell me that thing I like to hear. That thing that helps for a few minutes, that makes it stop and gives me hope. Tell me that thing that makes me smile. That thing that makes me feel better.”
Robert is a friend of mine, and he, like others I have known, share a similar problem. They’re in a place that makes little sense, a place unplanned and unknown. A place that came together by circumstance or worse, a place made by others.
“Robert, so much of what you worry about, so much that drives you to despair is fixable. You have the ability and the opportunity to do things differently, to change course, to give that stuff up and to make significant changes.
Robert, you have permission to do things differently.”
Each time it’s the same; he looks at me in disbelief. And for an instant he feels the power of possibilities and the hope of something new and different.
“I love the way that sounds. Sometimes I can keep the hope of something new and different for a day or two but life gets in the way and in a little while, I’m back in my stuff and those words seem ridiculous, unattainable and a mockery to my life.
Maybe if you’d write them down, put them on paper, maybe I could reach for them when things seem out of control, when I’m lost, frightened or hopeless.
Write them down so I can remember and while you’re at it, write down that other stuff. You know, the stories and the hope and the how to and how it all seems to work and while I sit here in this, “it’s not really my life” place, it all makes sense.
Write it all down damn it, so I can hold it, hear it and feel it.”
Ashna didn’t believe it when she heard it, yet she never said a word.
For a few minutes we sat together in a small group, nothing more than lunchtime chatter. There was talk about something and nothing. Today, Ashna dominated; she needed sympathy, empathy, maybe just an ear. Ashna told us about her evening, a night gone wrong.
“It’s the same thing every time we get together. I have these two friends, you know, guy friends. We’ve known each other since high school and we get together every couple of weeks, see a movie, have dinner, drinks, whatever.
Every time it’s the same thing. They have too much to drink. They act like fools, say stupid things, sometimes mean, hurtful things, usually inappropriate sexual things and it bothers me.
They don’t respect me. They don’t care how I feel and they couldn’t care less about what it’s like for me to be with a couple of fools. And every time it’s the same thing the next day. One of them or sometimes both will call.”
“Sorry Ashna. I guess we had too much to drink. I guess we said some things that might have hurt you. Sorry Ashna, you know it’s the booze. We’ll do better next time.”
“I guess I can forgive them. I mean they’re my friends. We’ve known each other for more than fifteen years. That’s what friends do isn’t it, support each other and understand?”
And the room nods and listens and respects Ashna’s pain, and the room gets it.
Of course, Ashna needs to forgive and be patient. Of course, Ashna ought to understand. That’s what friends do, isn’t it? That’s what the room thinks. She’s justified and cared for, she’s vindicated and supported. The room understands her pain and her predicament.
Is this all Ashna can hope for, a group of work buddies, lunch time “friends” nodding and excusing Ashna’s inability and her friends poor behavior?
“You don’t have to keep the same friends.
There’s no rule that says you have to keep the same friends forever. Why bother with them and why not be without them? Are you compelled to be here? Is there something that says a friend once is a friend forever?
Lose them. Get some new friends. Find someone who respects you, cares for you and treats you decently. And if that’s not possible then be by yourself. It’s got to be better than this.
Do it differently. Of course, you can forgive and be understanding. You can excuse these people without having to be abused by them, week after week and year after year.”
Ashna looks at me with disbelief. Such a thing is spoken in a foreign language. Such a thing has never occurred to her. She’s not only caught off guard but she’s shocked at the idea. How is such a thing possible? How can steps like this be taken?
This is my life, her face says. This is what I have. How can such freedom be possible?
“Ashna, pretty much anything is possible. Your life and its betterment, your happiness and the choices that bring happiness closer, are very possible. Imagine the freedom of not participating in the same mess over and over again.”
She stares blankly. The silence is clear. Lunch is over.