To Have a Friend is to be a Friend
I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.
This is how I usually start pieces that I feel reveal more about me. These writings hearken back to my Vikar’s Rant writings where if you toss a coin you’ll see that I’ll either write something inflammatory or something inspirational.
This will not be a superhero piece. There is a time and a place for those. That time and place will probably be sometime this week when I narrow down the topic.
Today began with my wife’s lament du jour on why she felt she was behind on her painting. Much like writing, painting is something you have to do every day in one form or another to be any good. I’m not a painter. The closest I get to painting is my dabbling into cartoons. My drawing talent falls somewhere in the category of “Parkinson’s patient on a jackhammer”.
I’m no Bill Waterson or Jim Davis.
When I tried to make light of my wife’s plight, she simply said, “You really should be writing.”
Touché. Me and my big mouth.
She was right, of course. I hadn’t written a word in a week outside of making Facebook posts. Writing is a muscle that if you don’t exercise it, it will atrophy. The last thing I needed was to write a short story and find that my language skills devolved into somewhere in the neighborhood of “Tarzan” or “Frankenstein” versions of English.
Usually, I keep to a journal of sorts. During my last gig at Deloitte, I kept to a daily log of what I’d learned. I tracked daily occurrences as well as my thoughts on them. I continued doing this after my contract end so that any negative thoughts I had could be put on paper instead of them bouncing around my brain where real harm could be done.
Don’t knock self-therapy. Sometimes, it works.
I have a lot going on in my head – both good and bad. In two weeks, I’ll be starting a new permanent gig as a Senior Technical Writer. This is the professional role I’ve always wanted. Plus, with that, I’ll have saved everyone in my immediate family from certain doom and poverty. At the same time, I was mourning the loss of a few Facebook friends where my politically charged posts had earned me a prompt unfriending. It hurt like ripping off industrial tape over a wound.
At the same time, I regret nothing I’ve said. I’d rather side with people who aren’t racists.
That is the one problem with social media. Our parents would preach that people evolve as they grow older. They would say the man you know now is not the man you knew in high school. I’ll grant that sometimes that is true. People do grow and evolve. Sometimes.
My experience is, most of the time, they don’t. Chances are the racist bastard you knew from your childhood is the racist bastard you know today. The reality is that we remain one age in our minds and stay with that for most of our life.
What I really hate is how our minds have a tendency to romanticize the past. It is only natural to remember either the good things or the bad things – we rarely remember the totality of our experience with old acquaintances. Sometimes these things reveal themselves like an old episode of Mission Impossible where you meet an old girlfriend and suddenly she rips off a mask and she’s Martin Landau.
That’s never something you want at a class reunion.
I always consider it a pleasant surprise when I find some of the people that I knew from the past who actually have become better people. Some have become close friends and I have found that rekindling those relationships has been well worth my time. I can credit much of my work as a fiction writer to such a person. Their evolution as a person has had a beneficial effect on me – making me a better person.
On the inverse side of that, friends and relatives that I have subconsciously censored in my memory have not changed. My mental memories of those people somehow saved all the good bits and dismissed all of the bad ones. Their reemergence into my life was like using turpentine over a painting. As layers and layers of “memory paint” are removed and the original picture is revealed, I can remember old stories of these bastards and tales of n**ger hunting and racial profanities that make me blanche.
It’s like going into your grandfather’s attic and finding a trunkful of well-preserved swastika armbands.
That’s when your mind can find itself going into its own archives and say, “Oh my God, that’s right. He did that.” What do you do? How do you deal with that?
Because fuck those people.
I had a recent conversation with an old friend whose friendship I treasure. I was in a bad place. He was talking me down from the ledge. His philosophy came down to understanding where some people were toxic in his life. His rationale was to only keep the people in his life that would promote his own happiness. My philosophy has always been that happiness itself is like the ebb and flow of tide where the concept of constant happiness is an impossibility and the best we can hope for is a sustained level of normalcy with peaks of euphoria to break up the monotony.
But I digress.
The point is that he saw people who were working against that goal as being like a psychic cancer. It’s like keeping to a good diet. Foods that promote a healthy body should be encouraged while cholesterol laden crap will eventually kill you.
Good people help you grow. Bad people – and you know who they are – will drag you down with them.
So when I speak about people who you’ve subconsciously edited as good enter your life through either social media or circumstances, it’s like biting into a Twinkie that’s had its creamy center replaced with dog shit.
Don’t eat that Twinkie. It’s bad for you.
I say that in the same breath that in order to be with good people, you, yourself, should be a good person. While you can be a bit of a rogue and have a little bit of harmless mischief, you should follow the best practices of All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.
Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life - Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die.
So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.
In short, you should be the friend you’d like someone to be to you. Be the good person that would make a difference in your own life. While we are all flawed individuals as a whole, you should always strive to be a better person. When you look within yourself and search for a blueprint on how to be that person that’s where your philosophy should lie – whether you get it from school, life experience, or your own acquired template for spirituality, your soul should be the thing driving you.
It is through your own self-discovery and the ability to look at yourself in the mirror that should be the acid test to all of this.
I can tell you that I know I am not perfect. I do not have the intelligence or the proper amount of conscience that I can piously look down upon the majority of people and condemn them to the hottest fire pits of Hell. What I do have is a sense of human decency.
“Don’t hurt each other.”
My wife has encouraged me to live a more compassionate life. In that sense, as a person, I feel I have grown. I’m not perfect. I still feel outraged when people in power use their position to make life worse for people who are already struggling to make the bare minimum. I was a small kid. I was bullied. I remember the bullies. This is my template on what NOT to be.
I have found that people who help you be the best version of you are the ones you should strive to keep. It’s a symbiotic relationship. They make you great and the payback is they become a better person for making you a better person.