Gossip

The other day I reconnected with a friend I’d not heard from in years. It was a great pleasure to chat, and we began to compare notes on people we’d known and what they’d been up to. Several acquaintances had moved on to impressive careers. Some were prominent in government, some in professional spheres. But, we said – think of the strain of that kind of life! Some had written books. A couple had written books but, alas, not had them published. Well, it’s a tough world, being a writer. One was a prolific poet. How wonderful – but there’s no money in that life. One had thrown over a promising academic career to be a used car salesman. One had suffered a nervous collapse; one had given it all up in disgust, which could have been the same thing. Several had died in various ways that were unexpected and vaguely shocking. One claimed by drugs, one killed while reporting in Iraq. And so on. And as we talked I began to see that we all, every single one of us, tend to have many conflicting needs as we think about our friends. We want them to have done well, but not so well that we feel diminished. We’d like them to excel, but are much happier if they do so in ways we expect, so we can say, “Yes, she was always going to do something good in that arena”. That way it feels as if we predicted it, and so we’re just as wise and important as they are, even if we’re not quite so much in the public eye. The ones who fell by the wayside we can pity – and yet that’s not the same as compassion. Pity lets us feel slightly superior as we survey the failings of others. So, some have no children (what a pity!) and some have too many (What a stress! What a difficulty! How do they manage?) It allows us to feel that no one got it right – except perhaps ourselves. And yet, that’s not a selfish thought. Perhaps we have, in fact, got it “right” or right enough for who we are. There’s no point in being a huge success if it leaves you feeling empty. And there’s no value in a life of privation if it doesn’t allow you whatever it is you need and are willing to sacrifice physical well-being to get. Comparisons are never easy, and sometimes not helpful. We don’t all have to be heroes, let alone Superheroes. We need to be who we are. And we need to love others, no matter how well or poorly we think they’re doing.