that I’m not the only person in the world.
Don’t worry – it surprised me too. My parents used to remind me of this fact quite often when I lived with them. My dad even went so far, once, to say
with sarcasm with love, that the rest of the world wasn’t around solely to enact whatever play script I felt like acting out on a daily basis. I was sixteen at the time – I didn’t really believe him.
But now, in my thirtieth year, I think I finally get it. I’ve been involving myself in quite a bit of self-worry lately, creating long, elaborate narratives of how the rest of my life is going to play out. If there were gloomy gray cliffs near by, I’d be walking along them – if Michigan had moors, you could find me there. This self-pity has been accompanied by two rather difficult factors, the first being my absolute loathing of anyone -anyone – who wants me to cheer up or make me feel better, and the second an inability to reach out to the people who need me, even when I can tell they are asking, needing me to just be there for them.
Is it giving the universe too much credit to assume this self-involvement is the reason three people have cried in front of me, in the last three days?
The first person who cried in front of me is a Guy Who I Share the Elevator With, who from here on out I will call Guy, which was my grandfather and my great-grandfather’s name, God bless those French Canadians. You know how, when you share the bus or the subway or an office building with someone, even though you work for totally separate companies, over time you become to know that person, to nod your acknowledgment? To note that he brings his lunch every day but Fridays, or he could use a new tie? You know how you create stories for these people in your head, and how they became, however peripherally, a part of your routine, a part of your life? Well, that would be Guy. On Monday, Guy and I ended up in the same elevator, as we often do, and for whatever reason – perhaps it was finally bridging the two-year gap of nodding to one another, I asked him how his weekend was.
And, honest to Pete, he started crying. “Not so good.” He said. “My cat died last night.”
Just -well – I mean – this is not the kind of guy – let me just say – so many of us have a crush on this particular elevator guy – we call him our office boyfriend – he’s sort of a hunk, plus he provides free legal counsel to poor people – he didn’t seem like a cat kind of guy. A dog person, definitely. But not a cat guy.
“I’m sorry.” I said, reeling from the fact that Guy owned a cat.
He waved – and I am not making this up, he waved a hand. “Oh, it’s okay. I mean, she was old. She took three different medicines. It just came as such a shock, you know?”
I nodded. I think I said I’m sorry again. When the elevator dropped us off on our shared floor, he went his way and I went mine. It seemed he moved faster than usual, but I don’t know.
The second person to cry in front of me was a co-worker. This particular co-worker, whom we will call DN, is becoming a friend of mine. We are going to happy hour next week together, we have talked about shopping and the movies. I like her, but I’ve been hesitant to really involve myself in becoming her friend recently, being as I am in a comfort friend mood – really, if you can’t remember the name of the boy I adored in college, or held my hair when I puked, or seen me pee, I’m just not in the mood right now. Anyway, on Tuesday I stopped in an office for a brief chat, and I asked her how her weekend was (she had Monday off), and damned if she didn’t start crying too. “Oh, well, you know. My parents left for the winter, and I know I’m 39, and I know it’s stupid, but I just feel so much happier when my mom and dad are around, you know?” Something struck me with this. I DID know. I feel much better when my mom and dad are around, too. Because she’s a girl, and a future friend, I hugged her (I mean, hugging Guy would have been weird, right?) I even felt a little teary-eyed on her behalf.
The third person to cry in front of me was my administrative assistant yesterday. She and I were walking to the parking lot together and I asked her how her daughter was enjoying college. K said “Oh, she loves it. She just loves it. There are so many programs, so many things she wants to do…she’s bringing a list home over Thanksgiving of everything she wants to do and I’m going to help her pick and choose.”
“That’s great,” I said.
“Yes. I just miss her so much, you know? Yesterday she went shopping with a girlfriend. She and I used to shop together!” She started crying, and even though K still has three children at home, the sadness she felt without her daughter being gone was palpable – a third party on the walk with us. I made comforting sounds but I didn’t know exactly what to say, although I understand completely, the least little thing setting you on a crying jag.
I’m not sure if these three incidents would have all come together and really pulled me out of my own pissiness if I hadn’t met A., AN, B and S. for drinks and trivia at the bar last night. I’ve know A. and AN since my freshman year of college – we named our trivia team after our floor at Michigan State. B is new but one of those people who you just like, immediately, who gets the jokes and makes jokes of his own, who is so completely laid back that you can imagine a time not too far off when you won’t even be able to remember a time he didn’t hang out with you. A. and I arrived first and as we were talking we realized we both felt a little grouchy – not like ourselves. I knew, of course, that I felt that way, but I hadn’t realized A. had a touch of the autumn blues as well. When AN arrived I shared with him that I felt a little bluesy, and he said he did, too. And I KNEW S. felt the same way.
And -it’s weird – I don’t know if having people around me than I’ve known for so long experiencing feelings similar to mine, or having people unexpectedly cry with me , or what, but I suddenly felt pulled out of myself, cognizant that other people are having shitty times too and for nearly a month I’ve been pushing them away, not caring.
And that is so unlike me.
Right now, in this moment, I have to admit I don’t wonder if this is some sort of collective national malaise. Has all the horrible news finally gotten to us? Can a country continue to fight such an unjustified war day after horrible day without it somehow affecting the collective? Can I please blame my malaise and that of my friends on President Bush? I sort of do, you know.
Or am I making this all meta, as S. would say? Are we just sad because the lack of actual light in our lives, with the days growing shorter and shorter? Is it our day to day struggles – our finances, our relationships, our jobs -are they what are wearing us down?
I don’t know, but to me it seems like a tough time for so many people, and I’d forgotten other people are going through they’re own shit. I forgot, riding as I was a wave of universe-given grace, that pets die – pets we had for a long, long time. And people we love the most move away, to Arizona or college. I forgot that every single person I know, whether it’s the peripheral person in the soup line at the cafeteria or the boy who carried me out of the bar on my 21st birthday, experiences a thousand little hurts each day – suffers blows and disappointments that cut them to their core.
It’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to grow so self-involved, so consumed with your own importance, your own role in the play you write in your head, that proffering grace to others is sacrificed. I sometimes think that loneliness is the single greatest human motivator (my novel, actually, uses this idea throughout) and I think right now there are an awful lot of people in the world, feeling all alone. It’s good to remember I’m not, you know, the only person in the world*.
*This is not quite as effective, though, as having your father yell it at you, his face all red, the vein in his left temple throbbing, his hands gesturing wildly. Paul Rex was quite good at reminding me where I stood in the scheme of things. Also, in high school, if I was worried about what I looked like, he would remind me that nobody cared about me – that everybody is busy worrying about him or her self, and so what I looked like really didn’t matter. Written out in black and white this looks harsh but I always found it comforting,actually.