There’s a ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ saying I like: “We grow too soon old, and too late smart”. And of course we never stop hearing “Hindsight is 20/20”. We’re all familiar with the idea that we can’t seem to gather up any wisdom or insight when we’re in the middle of a cesspool of life’s problems.
Take the idea of caring what other people think. The way I look at it now is that if I am really open with a friend, even when my life looks like crap, that can be a pretty good test of the friendship. If a friend disappears when you’re going through your personal hell, he or she can be replaced. Really. And knowing how to make new, good friends is a learnable skill. Especially if you’re not too shy (and as a formerly shy person, I can swear that too is learnable.)
It’s such a dominant element in peoples’ lives that you’d think they’d teach “friendship” in school. They could teach kids how to pick better friends, how to be a good friend, how to deal with losing a friend (happens all the time, especially in grade school!) It’s sad how many people feel it’s the end of the world when a friendship goes up in a puff of smoke, when it could very well clear the way for a new and better quality one. I have had this experience many times, and I believe the quality of our friendships as they come and go are often a good indication of our personal growth.
And yet, having said all that, there are friendships lost ‘by accident’, which can never really be replaced. My friendship with Madeline was one such relationship. I haven’t seen her in more than 15 years, since she moved back to Singapore. She wrote the way I wrote, we loved to talk about ideas, psychology, politics or relationships, which we used to analyse endlessly. We also laughed a lot and I even liked her husband! What more could you ask for.
During one of my ‘crap’ periods, specifically when my kids were adolescents and I was convinced I was an obviously lousy parent, and my kids were going to hell, I stopped getting together with her or calling her, because I was sure she’d think I was incompetent. Eventually she was living in Singapore, and I was not keeping up with correspondence. It was still the days of mailboxes and postage stamps, and I was a terrible procrastinator. One needed to be more organized in the days before email! One day an envelope was returned with a “not at this address” note on it, and I have not heard of her since.
I don’t blame the old mail system, or procrastination. I blame my old fear of what people think. When I look back, I am sure I could have told her how I felt about my parenting, and she probably could have reassured me about the normality of my children’s behavior. They of course have become ‘perfect’ adults; and I am without Madeline.