Monday, October 25, 2010

what i learned...

char, over at ramblins, invited some of her readers to write a life lesson and share it with our own readers. I decided to accept the invitation. As I've thought about this lesson the past week, I've worried that people would find it trivial or insignificant. But I also realized that different things are hard for different people. Something that you have gone through might seem easier than my own trials. Something that I have gone through might seem easier to you. And I remembered something I said once. Quoting myself, "The smallest, tiniest, most insignificant things can break your heart because they weren't small, tiny, or insignificant to you."

We all suffer heartbreaks. They are different for us all. And that, friends, is how I will begin my lesson, of what I have learned:

I am what you would call a rather paranoid person. I constantly worry that I hurt others and drive them away from me. I'm afraid that I'll be abandoned. I'm afraid to abandon others, even when I know that their actions are unfair or harmful to me. This past year I have lost several friends, friends who I trusted and loved as much as my own family. One experience in particular comes to mind. During my junior year in high school, I befriended a young man who I had several classes with. Johnny* was a year older than me, but that didn't really seem to matter. We talked to one another frequently about the things we were struggling with, and he often told me that I helped him get through hard things.

Johnny helped me in many ways as well. When I faced similar trials, especially the feeling of worthlessness that rears up in my heart and mind, he talked to me and gave me advice. He never made me feel like I was stupid or mediocre. Yes, his honesty would on occasion be brutal, but I knew that he was saying such things as a friend. It wasn't to bring me down.

This young man meant a lot to me. I sort of adopted him as my older brother; I loved him for his courage in continuing forward despite his struggles with his family, his friends, and feeling that he was of no worth. I loved him for his intelligence and honesty. I loved him very much.

Johnny was in a lot of pain, emotionally and mentally. I remember staying up all night long talking to him on several occasions, and I would find myself crying silently as I listened to him. I wanted to help Johnny; he had entered a very severe depression. "There is no light anymore," he said, "There hasn't been for a very long time. I expect that for me, life will never be bright again, and I will be lost to the darkness forever." This frightened me. Johnny had done stupid things before and had talked about doing stupid things, and I was worried that he would make the greatest mistake of all.

I worked with him. I did what I could, in listening and accepting him the way he was. One night, I told him that I would always be there for him if he needed me. The conversation died for a few moments, and he answered saying, "I don't see how girls can do that. They're just there for people, despite the fact that they get hurt. You're like that. You will get hurt for it. And you, of all people in the world, I couldn't bear to hurt." He then said something that made me think for a few minutes, "You can't always be there for people. When they fail…if you've invested too much energy and time in a person who will disappoint you-don't make that mistake."

I was confused by this. How could I possibly invest too much time in a person? Did Johnny think he would disappoint me? I told him he couldn't disappoint me. He hadn't given up. He kept trying. Besides, I trusted him. I had from early into our friendship. I told him, and he replied, "You give your trust too easily."

I decided to ignore this. Give my trust too easily? Ridiculous! Johnny was my dear friend. I knew so much about him. He knew so much about me. I kept trying to help him. I talked to him. I talked to his family. I did everything that I could possibly think of without making him upset with me.

Early in November of last year, Johnny was lower than I had ever seen him. He truly seemed to be near giving up. I could think of nothing more to do, so I asked him a question. I asked, "Have I ever told you that I love you?"

There was no answer for a few minutes. I sat at the computer, scared to death that I had overstepped and made a huge mistake. Then came the answer, an answer that I have never forgotten. "You have never needed to. I've known since the beginning that you love me. You are the most sincere person I have ever met; for that I thank you. I know that you love me. And I hope you know that I love you, too."

The next afternoon I got on the computer to talk to him, as I had every evening for almost two months. He was gone. All traces of Johnny had disappeared. I tried to call, but there was no answer. I talked to his brother, who I went to school with, and he told me that he didn't know what was going on.

He really was gone. He hadn't done anything stupid, but he had detached himself from our friendship. We were, in fact, no longer friends. I was devastated. Johnny, who I had loved so much, and held such high regard for, was gone from my life. There were no more talks. No more phone calls. No more plans to do things and becoming too busy so planning for another day.

This really destroyed me. For days, weeks, and months, I thought about what I had done wrong. Had I truly overstepped in telling Johnny out loud that I loved him? Had I been wrong in becoming so close to him? What had I done to make him leave like that? Over and over again in my mind I analyzed our conversations and tried to figure out what my mistake had been. I was so down about this, and any mention or reminder of Johnny would send me over the edge. We went to a dance together junior year; I hid the flowers, I put away the pictures, and I stored the dress somewhere in the basement. I wanted to erase him from my life.

I saw Johnny in the spring. It had been months since he disappeared. I was so shocked, but my first reaction was to run, to run after him and catch him. I burst out of the building and yelled his name. He stopped, and turned around. Johnny's smile started, then faded, and slowly he held out his hands to me. I almost ran into his arms. All of the pain and fear was gone in that moment. I wasn't angry at him. I didn't feel any pain. I was just so happy to see him. I couldn't even believe it.

The conversation was awkward, but I didn't want him to leave. I knew that it would be back to the way it had been before. We said a quiet good-bye, and I had the feeling that I would never see him again. As I walked into the building alone, I began to cry. For a few moments, the pain had been gone. It returned even stronger than before. I was so confused, and felt so abandoned. I knew he was gone again, and there would be no chance for the friendship I had so cherished to be fixed.

Johnny's younger brother, Eric**, has become a friend of mine. We had a ballroom class together the last semester of the school year. He looks so much like Johnny, and he sounds like him, too. I was worried that Eric would think I was using him as a replacement for my Johnny. I talked to him about it one night. He told me that he had never thought that, and to stop worrying about Johnny's decision. I, however, couldn't stop worrying about it. Just last week, I was thinking about Johnny and feeling the pain of his leaving again. I decided I would talk to Eric; he always has very good advice. I didn't tell him what I was really bothered by. I told Eric that I feel that I constantly hurt people, and that the things I do push them away from me. "I've lost so many people I love this year," I told him, "And I don't understand what it is that I'm doing wrong."

Eric gave me a situation to think about. "Imagine that both of my parents died in a car accident last weekend. I am extremely distraught, and I shut myself off from the world. You try to approach me to say hello, just as you normally would. I don't respond. In fact, I cut you off from me. You have no idea what has happened, and I don't feel like telling you. Does that make my actions your fault? Have you done anything to hurt me, other than being yourself and being my friend, just as you always do?"

That really made me reflect on what happened with Johnny. This past week, as I was thinking about what Eric said to me, I have realized that I didn't really do anything wrong. I was honest. I was myself. I did everything that I had always done, since the beginning of my friendship with Johnny. Perhaps, as Eric said, this isn't my fault. Perhaps Johnny is at a time in his life where he has cut himself off from the world. Perhaps I didn't hurt him; perhaps I did nothing wrong. Eric's words, and my own search for answers, have helped me to see that perhaps things just happen. People handle trials and struggles in different ways. I won't say that I am 100% ready to trust someone again. I won't say that I'm not hurt. I won't say that I'm not afraid that I will be hurt again. But now I am finding that to forgive the person who hurts you, and to forgive yourself, are the two ways to find peace.

I have learned that people hurt each other. I have been very hurt multiple times this year by people I love; the experience with Johnny is just one of them. However, it is not my job to harbor guilt, resentment, fear, and pain. I do not need to constantly analyze my actions in a situation. I do not need to take all the blame. I am not to judge another, but I am to forgive. And I am also to forgive myself.

Life is a hard thing. We meet people, we keep people, we lose people. Perhaps there are people who come into our lives for a short time to teach us, and then they leave when they are no longer needed. Perhaps there are people who come into our lives for forever, and the lessons we learn from the short term people will strengthen our ability to keep the forever people. I have learned to love despite the fear. I have learned how to love despite the pain. I have learned to forgive. I haven't completely learned everything; I'll never stop learning. But I have a foundation now. Now, it is time to move forward.

*Name has been changed

**Name has been changed


Elizabeth said...

Thank you!!!!

margie said...

oh my. i have nothing else to say but oh my.

Puna said...

Well, I think this has more to do with Johnny than with you. Just know that and you can move on without fear of continually getting hurt.