This post is about my college roommate, Marcia.
It’s a weekend post, so my urge is to write a longer post, especially since it’s about somebody I love.
However, I am also really tired, since I didn’t get enough sleep last night. (I am working on getting more sleep, but I seem to be one of Those People Who Can Function Without Enough Sleep.) (As opposed to Those People Who Can Function Without Enough Food.) (Perhaps the topic of a future post? Time will tell.*)
Because I am so tired as I am writing this, I am going to be kind to myself and my readers and keep today’s post short(er).
This is what I most want you to know about Marcia, right now:
She is smart, kind, funny, strong, honest, and beautiful. She helped me feel welcome and safe when I arrived at college, which was a new and scary experience for me. She has always engaged with me in an authentic and loving way.
Here’s what — I think — has gotten in the way of us being closer at times: insecurity. (If you want to read a super-short post about how insecurity can get in the way of intimacy, see this post, called “Barriers to Connection.”)
I confess: I have compared myself to Marcia, at times, and felt “inferior.”
Comparisons — when these comparisons are unhelpful — are a “cognitive distortion.” My personal definition of cognitive distortions, this morning? It’s a human way of thinking that can get in the way of connecting with other people on this planet. (That statement is based on more than 50 years of eager curiosity and observation.) (Your mileage — and experience — may vary.)
Anyway, I could write a lot more about cognitive distortions, and how comparisons can cause so much personal pain and disconnection …. but I won’t. Not today.
Today, I want to post (with her permission) an e-mail that Marcia wrote me, four days ago, on April 23:
I have been meaning to comment on a couple of things that really resonate for me in your blog. Much of what you advise makes me think of how my mom, the sanest, wisest person I’ve known so far, used to help us deal with life’s difficulties. These are strategies I still use, and our kids use, to get past the rough spots.
First, you wisely advise your reader to “let go of your investment in the outcome.” Mom used to always tell us that once you’ve done the very best you can to achieve something, or fix something, or change something, you’ve got to let go and accept that you’re not in control. Her most frequent suggested response to an apparent stone wall in our lives, a determined opponent, an unfair decision, an insurmountable handicap was to “put yourself in neutral” for awhile, take stock, coast, until the next appropriate gear decides to kick in. This, we knew, was the manual transmission version of “cool your jets.” It doesn’t mean stop or withdraw or give up or go back. It implies forward momentum, after all, but it doesn’t strain your engine!! We had a wonderful 1872 book of essays by a man named Charles Dudley Warner of Hartford, Connecticut called “My Summer in a Garden.” He advises us all to “Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations; it does not much matter if things do not turn out well.” I guess that pretty much sums it up!
You’ve also hit on another brilliant perspective of my mom’s. Things are not always what they seem to be. People are not always thinking, or feeling the things you fear that they are thinking or feeling. A good approach to a person who SEEMS to be your nemesis is, mom said, to “kill them with kindness.” Real kindness. There is no weapon more effective than sincere friendliness. It confuses your enemy.(if he is, in fact, your enemy) Everyone believes in his heart of hearts that he deserves to be treated well. You have the power to give people the thing they secretly long for. Call people by name when you talk to them. Everyone likes to hear their own name. It’s also a sweet way to let a difficult person know that you “know where they live.” It is curiously effective to harness a desire for vengeance and convert it to positive action. At first it’s hard work, but it never fails to give you the upper hand, or at least the moral high ground!
And…last comment for now…an ongoing belief of mine that is a subtext of your blog is that we have to let ourselves be “surprised by joy” every day. Wordsworth really “got away with words,” as my baby niece once said. No matter how dark the valley, how horrible the sadness, how irreparable the loss, at some level it fails to reach us. We struggle to absorb and fully realize the evil realities in life. Suddenly, as you often comment, the trees are blooming, and they are beautiful. Lots of people are still brave and funny and loving. As Emerson said, “I am constantly defeated, yet to victory I am born.”
Anyway, there’s a response of sorts to what you’re writing. I’m not just a free rider anymore! You remind me of Wordsworth, or Emerson, or, better yet, my Mom! I hope this finds you feeling that the universe has its arms around you. I also hope that you and the people of Boston are all breathing easier and reclaiming the right to live your lives with abandon.
That’s the end of our blog post for the day, ladies and gentlemen.
My thanks to you for reading. Also, thanks to Marcia, Wordsworth, Emerson, Charles Dudley Warner, and — last but not least — Marcia’s mom.
* This is a shout-out to another person I love, who I hope is reading this, too!