The problem with facing your own mortality is surviving.
Surviving means you realise how much you didn’t mean to the people around you.
Leukaemia didn’t just shed my hair or my weight. In the months and years after getting out of hospital, I shed many friends. It sorted out who cared for me and who indifferently didn’t mind if I was dead or alive.
And since I knew first hand how short life was, I didn’t put up with shit anymore. I didn’t accept crumbs from the table.
The perfect friend is an illusion.
Friends will let you down.
Friends are busy with their own lives.
Friends have different values, needs, and expectations.
Friends move on.
They will only love you in the way they know how. Their way.
Expecting love the way you want it may disappoint.
Take what they are able to give.
Open you arms to the nourishing drops.
But guard your heart like a watchman.
And learn the gentle art of walking away graciously.
I had a very close friend who saw me go through cancer first hand. In the months after I got out of hospital I barely heard from her. Those months turned into painful years of letting me down. One event after another.
It hit me then like never before. I’d nearly lost my life. Instead of valuing my life more, she in fact valued my life less.
I still shed friends. I’m getting sharper.
Sometimes I wonder if I should wear a sign on my head that says ‘Handle With Care’.
But why should I need to? Shouldn’t we treat everyone with care?
Maybe we all need reminding.
I’ve talked about being kind before.
But how about we do more than that.
How about we really give a damn about each other?
I’ve got a birthday party jinx. Even parties for my kids. They become platforms where my worst fears are played out. Typically, I invite a large group of people and only a handful show up. Recurring theme.
My brittle self-esteem has cracked way too many times. My inner voice says ‘no more’.
Being the nomad that I am, I found myself a few weeks ago turning 40 and with hardly any deep lasting friendships around me. Still, I thought long and hard about celebrating my birthday – a milestone birthday – and despite my inner voice saying ‘no’, I decided to take the risk once again and say ‘yes’. Yes, to a party to celebrate me.
I wish I had listened to my inner voice.
Admittedly, I don’t have huge number of friends here. And I didn’t give a great deal of notice to people. But the week before my birthday I had a list of 12 people who had responded to say they were coming to my birthday lunch and I was okay with that. I was starting to feel okay about it after all.
Then, half an hour beforehand, the text messages of cancellations came rolling in.
One after another. I have to accept the explanations. But the attrition rate was typical of previous parties. Why had I done this? I know I shouldn’t count it as rejection, but it felt like it nevertheless.
Four friends turned up to my 40th birthday lunch.
We had a great time.
But I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.
I realised that it’s not anybody’s fault. I’ve moved around too much. I care too much.
But I’ve never felt so close to wanting to run away. From everything.
This place is not my home.
If have any more years left I want to live them out with people that love me. Deeply. People who really give a damn.
There’s a plan. A fine plan. I’m working on getting back home.
In the meantime, be kind to each other.
Don’t offer crumbs.
Give a damn about your friends.
Give a damn about that thing that’s annoying them, that joke that made them laugh, that dream that electrifies them, and that sadness that drags their feet.
If you want rich and fulfilling friendships, give a damn.
If you want to live a life with no regrets, give a damn.
If you want to feel alive, give a damn.
Give a damn about your friends.
Friendships can be hard and tiring and tricky, but give a damn anyway.