Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Waiting on a Friend

Sometimes, everything is difficult. Even your friends.

It should have been a good thing when Lucky called Sunday night. It should have been an opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives. Share a laugh. Commiserate about work and aging parents. A pause in the rat race.

But Lucky is feeling the sting of late middle-age. And with it, the realization that whatever he hasn’t done will, at this point, likely remain that way until death. It has its talons deep into his flesh, especially in this, the age of diminished opportunities.

While marveling at his quarter-century with a single employer, I realize he was hiding more than anything. A college degree should have been a fresh start. But there was a fear in Lucky, a fear of leaving his comfort zone and trying something new.

Despite what we say on Facebook and on Twitter, change provokes anxiety in all of us. But in Lucky’s case, it was something more. It was paralyzing. This sense of life having passed him by has curdled into something far-uglier. Anger. Rage. Jealousy.

Sunday night, it careened into finger-pointing and accusations. He brought up a long-ago dinner out he paid for, a dinner I had in no way, shape or form solicited. "It's on me" he said with a casual wave of his hand.

Now I know better. It was on me—for accepting it. It made me a parasite in Lucky's eyes.

It was a shot so cheap it deserved shelf-space at Wal-Mart.

Thankfully, there's another side to the story.

Understanding is an awesome responsibility. Sometimes, it asks us to tolerate the intolerable. In this case, knowing intimately the depths of my friend’s discontent made it difficult to respond as I normally would.

But you can only do so much. You can only listen and try to empathize and offer the hoped-for solace of shared feelings and experiences.

It's not always enough.

Like my friend, I am in many ways embittered and sour. I struggle to subvert my anger and cynicism and jealousy at those around me who I perceive to have better, more-fulfilling lives. At those who, through no fault of their own, haven’t suffered the ravages of the Great Recession to the extent I have.

But Lucky left me something. Unintentional as it was, Lucky gave me a refresher course in what we become when the worst elements of our personality get the best of us. How we sound when the howling rage of regret takes center stage.

And how we so often (and so unwittingly) can subject those who care about us most to the worst we have to offer.

It was a cold, hard look in the mirror.

And that may be the greatest gift friendship has to offer.

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