Careers are like non-platonic relationships. If wonders, suspicions, and doubts become an all too recurrent theme – about whether it is worth your emotional investment, the weight and duration of your efforts, the disappointments, the sacrifices, the tedious lulls, the unnerving volatility or simply the passage time; the heart of heart already knows the answer. There will be mornings where you wander aimlessly in a hopium haze of desperation, believing that desperation alone can somehow improve your circumstances. But on those occasions, the anchors of inertia will remind you that nothing has changed and that the cement on your boots are congealing quickly. If there is no learning, growth or progress; if you can’t see a directed path along your future trajectory; if you are constantly dwelling on missed opportunities of the past while sheepishly eyeing every other greener pasture, the heart knows that it was an engagement that should have ended as a hapless summer romance, at best.
While one can always hope that the head’s doctrine of pragmatic stability stops bleeding the heart’s passion to death, parting those curtains to see the light of day on the other side takes courage when you’ve already grown a fond familiarity with darkness.
A well calibrated sense of humor, the wit of youth’s exuberance, a pinch of hyperbole, wrapped in appropriate sarcasm make for a great set of armor against a monotonous, disenchanting daily grind. But after a certain point, the armor must come off, and the heavy mask placed aside. After the makeup has been scrubbed off, we still need the levity to laugh at ourselves and circumstances, as dark satire of better versions to come; and the heart to smile at the people that have knocked us off balance along their own paths.
It is discouraging to know that people use friendship as a medium to express and dignify superiority in judgment, morals, insights or breadth of perspective. It is easy to judge but difficult to understand the true depths of another person’s sorrow – to see through the brittle pillars that are holding her together in bitter desperation. If you can’t be bothered to scale up or down to her vantage point, to trace through the trajectory of her unique circumstances, the least you can do is let her grieve at her own pace and allow her to descend into whatever harrowing depths she feels appropriate in letting go, without passing cursory judgment. Proportionality of grief is a personal canvas. Your role as a friend is to be the gentle presence she seeks when the lights are dimmed low, the steady hand that intimates that after this tides over, there will still be warmth, comfort, and continuity. Don’t be another bland voice in the bright light choir of “You should be happy. Your grief is irrational and unjustified. Think positive. Everything is fine”, that makes her feel obliged to put on that heavy mask again. The fitness of despondency and proportionality of grief are personal brush strokes on a personal canvas.
Sometimes a friend can be so consumed in hiding her sorrows and rendering them invisible, yet so distraught and lost in the depth of their reflection that she is utterly unaware of how visible they have become to those around who care to care. As a friend, you have two choices: to scratch the surface of her “tough girl” pride, reach in, and let her know that it is OK to take off that mask; or let her march on and perpetuate that delicate balance until her foot finally reaches for that nonexistent extra stair, and falls through that abyss. But in the latter, be that sturdy, disorienting, yet sobering foundation that meets her at the end.
My biggest irritation associated with the prevalent “nice guys finish last” pout is that, in my mind, there is an unequivocal distinction between being nice and being kind. Being nice in this context is really a reflection of how one wishes to be perceived by others. Being kind, on the other hand, is a genuine reflection of compassion and empathy on a standalone basis. If your friendly and agreeable outward nature belies a veiled agenda, unwarranted expectations of something in return, and an inner temper ready to project your insecurities on to the fault of others, you’re not a kind person. You’re a “nice asshole”, and nice assholes are worse than regular assholes. If you’ve decided to be an asshole, the least you can offer the world is to be authentic about it.
A person can be confident, stern, principled, vocal, assertive, and charismatic while being kind at the same time. There are no contradictions in that statement. If you truly believe that “kind guys” finish last, then there is probably something grievously wrong about your definition of kindness or the evaluation criteria used in your ranking of the outcomes. Although “nice guys” may deservedly finish last, the last time “kind guys finish last” was the law of the land I believe was some time around 10th grade.
She was longing for something she never had. She was missing someone or something that was never coming back, waiting, always waiting. Her head was full of grand soundtracks for that triumphant moment to arrive. Where she would finally rise above and transform herself into that person she always imagined she deserved and was on the brink of becoming. But she was always two steps away, then one step, then again two steps away or one step too late for that elusive “moment”. She would watch today stumble into tomorrow, then next week, next month, next year, which would eventually blend itself indistinguishably into the year after, in an apathetic blur.
During the day, there were moments where she would ask time to flow at a gentler pace, time would occasionally show glimpses of kindness and oblige. Those moments teased her with a certain promise, dream, and hope. But that optimism casually eroded throughout the evening until it abandoned her completely. The night would arrive with its barren darkness, moderate despair, and the trembling fear of the familiar “Here we go, and here we are. Again.”
We all hold on to our own flavors of fairy tales. It is seldom, if ever, the place for a friend to be the flame that burns through those pages. Hope may be a placebo of desperation, but sometimes hope is the only currency that we have. Sometimes, all that is needed is for a friend to remind you that the glue that is holding those broken pieces together is not the expectation of a grand moment of triumph, but rather the thousands of boring, pedestrian disappointments, struggles, and stumbles that have already been endured, and survived.
From the perspective of a child, a mother’s love seems boundless and unconditional in every sense of those words. In strength, she will love you in the solace, pride, and satisfaction that her child is strong enough to bear the heft of the world, the weight of his or her own will, in a rough world full of falling boulders, and sharp edges. In weakness, she will love you in her will to protect her baby, her flesh, from the perils of that menacing world. In moments of darkness, she will show you that you are not the lone occupant of that burning castle; that the dark room you often lock yourself into has more than one name on the door. She will be there to celebrate your small victories, as well as to lift you up from large failures. She will cheer for you even when you divert course away from and beyond the boy or girl that she knows in her heart.
Whether or not there is truth to that perception in the heart of the bearer, at least from the perspective of the recipient, a father’s love often feels more like milestone based vesting – conditional on whether or not you live up to certain expectations, and become worthy of carrying the family flag. You know that your father will love you regardless, but there is a certain sense that that love may be qualitatively different or quantitatively less if you do not climb that mountain, reach and grasp on to those expected milestones.
In that sense, it has always baffled me that many religions, Abrahamic or not, personify deity as a father figure. If true strength and power lies in mercy, forgiveness, love, and the infinite ability to bear the pain of others rather than distant, authoritative discipline, and if the defining characteristic of a god is omnipotence, my first instinct would be to cry “Heavenly Mother” rather than “Heavenly Father”.
It’s easy to judge, but difficult to understand the true depths of another man’s sorrow – to see the pillars that are holding him together in brittle desperation.
One of the most painful and perhaps least helpful things you can offer a man struggling with suicidal depression is the constant denunciatory dialogue of how selfish the act of suicide is. What seems flagrantly selfish to the man desperately trying to walk away from that ledge, that rope, that bottle of pills, that gun, is the act of people asking him to perpetuate his intolerably bleak existence and unbearable despair just to save others the pain of 1 or 2 months of remorseful soul searching and existential ponderance.
He doesn’t want or need the reasons of his sorrow to be understood. He merely needs someone to acknowledge its depth without passing judgment based on secular checks and balances. He needs someone to help him rationalize the possibility of hope not someone to irrationalize his despair.
A last embrace or kiss always lingers and is slow to fade from one’s memory, especially if its finality was known a priori. It starts with the intent to be courteous, brief, and austere, but always gets lost in the fleeting touch of the same strength, warmth, and compassion that was shared in the peak of that relationship.
It is not all sorrow and grief. There is a certain beauty in the desperation that bridges what could have been with what was not meant to be – in its delicate acknowledgement, the restraint and respect. The soft murmurs that you hear in your head almost sound like sobs. But soon enough you realize that it was one of those moments where it was the silence that resonated the loudest.
Even in her despair, she always managed to brave a smile. It was the silver that flanked that ominous cloud, the faint flicker that fought the wind. Her smile was always beautiful – both in its naive exuberance, and hopelessly hopeful desperation. Whenever I had to drag my feet along that same old path, exhausted, confused, defeated, and lost, I would lift my head up and see her smile. For those fleeting moments I was oblivious to how cold it truly was.
That night when we blacked in and out of rum and Scotch, we finally thought we made lasting friends, friends named faith and hope. But as soon as we turned around, they stabbed us in the back.
I was bent on rescuing her by showing her that she could be and was loved deeply by a cold, distant man, a man that she had previously labeled a robot. But all I ended up doing was taking that moment’s purpose and burning it in the palms of our hands.