I’d seen Bryan around, but I first noticed him when he officially introduced himself to the group at a staff meeting. He was from southern Colorado, his wife left him, and he came to Seattle trying to make sense of the last six years of his life.
I took note.
It wasn’t that I reveled in rescuing lost puppies; but rather, because he suffered, I knew he wasn’t shallow.
I look around me now, at my closest friends, and they all know or have experienced suffering. Some I have watched suffer; some suffered before I knew them. But it is their Story of pain and tragedy that allows me to trust them, to let them watch me as I writhe in my own confused, dark places.
I’ve had a few people tell me I’m stand-offish, that I’m hard to get to know. This confused me, because my commitment to friends is deep and forever. But when I think about it, when I think about who makes these claims, I realize it’s the people I don’t really know – the ones who lie to themselves and everyone else about their suffering, who want to pretend they have it together, who avoid suffering at all costs.
And they’re right: I’m stand-offish to them.
I have to be, because in relationship I don’t hide much, and it would be foolish for me to expose myself to the untested.
A few years ago I lost a friend. She met me on the doorstep as I came to pick up my kids at her house, and she told me we couldn’t be friends anymore. She didn’t really explain, and it didn’t make any sense. Conflict was happening around us, but I wrongly assumed we were tight, that we would persevere, that our friendship could withstand it all.
Ironically, as I walked over to pick up my children that morning I felt compelled to acknowledge all that was swirling around us. I was planning to tell her I loved her, and that I wanted us to pray together for Peace in the midst of The Ugliness, and that I wanted to wrestle through our friendship.
So her confrontation was quite a blow.
But it let me know I had chosen wrongly in her as a friend, that my vulnerability was given to her untested. As the following weeks unraveled, everything I thought I knew about our friendship turned out to be a polite facade that covered gossip, disdain, and betrayal. Despite the fact I could see how she suffered, it turns out she never let me in. She was pushing me away, and I never even saw it.
It took two and a half years for me to understand this – to understand we did not feel the same way about suffering and friendship. In fact, I don’t think I understood it until around paragraph seven of this post.
Thankfully, that experience did not cause me to retract my vulnerability, but it did open my eyes to Caution. I think back on what it is I saw in Bryan, and in my friends, that drew me in to their Story – and I believe it is the limps and scars and weathered skin that tell me I’d be safer in their boat than in a greenhorn’s.