1. The Friend Who Let You Down
We all have one of these. Some of us have more than one. By which I mean, a friend who we may laugh with, cry with, work side by side with, but who we know way deep down in our gut, in the place where intuition lies, doesn’t wish the best for us. This friend may be a very good person in all sorts of ways. She may not even mean to hurt us. But hurt she does. So it went with Helen, my friend of 15 years. One afternoon, Helen came by the house for a visit. She brought along a woman I didn’t know. My son was having a big old toddler tantrum at the moment and I was delighted by the tantrum. He had been terribly ill as an infant and had very nearly died. I was all for normal toddler behavior. He was red-faced, screaming, stamping his little feet. Alive! Healthy! As I scooped him up in my arms, I overheard Helen’s companion ask her how old my boy was. And I caught Helen’s reflection in a mirror as she mouthed: He’s two, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. It was a dreadful moment—a reckoning, a realization of her judgment, her lack of empathy. I called her on it, eventually. But what was there, really, to say? She apologized profusely. I accepted that apology, but I knew that things would never be the same between us. Helen was part of my learning curve about who can be safely let into my inner circle. Lesson learned.
2. The Friend You Let Down
Sarah and I met in college and instantly fell into an intense, sisterly friendship. I thought I would know her forever. After college, our lives diverged. I moved to New York City and started a career. Sarah moved back home, down south, got married and had kids way before I did. As the years passed, we had less and less in common, it seemed. I drifted farther and farther away. I stopped answering her calls. I was too young to understand that old friends are the ones who can remind you of who you once were. I was too young to know that while we may grow up and shed our younger selves like snakes molting skin, those selves are still important and we should keep close those who knew us when and remind us of the distance we’ve traveled. I didn’t yet know that there are many aspects of a friendship far more important than sharing a career, a neighborhood, a kid’s school, a life path. Sarah and I were connected on a level deeper than all that, and the fact that I’m not going to be pulling up my rocking chair next to hers in a nursing home some day makes me sad. I blew it. Sarah, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.
3. The One Who Was Just Too Close for Comfort
Close your eyes for a moment. You’ll know just who I mean here, and it’s okay. You don’t need to say his name aloud. Maybe you’re married. Or he’s married. Or both. But you’ve envisioned a parallel life—one you will never live, and won’t ruin your perfectly wonderful life for—with this one. And this is no idle daydream. It’s just a little bit dangerous. When your eyes meet, you both feel it. Some small part of you wants to know what it would be like to be with him. You find yourself thinking: what harm could there be in a stolen afternoon? Of course you know the answer to this. So you need to keep your distance. A friendship doesn’t feel safe or possible. Dear reader, you need to lose him. You can’t keep him around. Okay. Now open your eyes. And count your blessings.
4.The Death You Never Saw Coming
As the Buddha once famously said, life is suffering. To love is to lose. In the natural order of things, we will eventually lose our own parents and in the natural order of thing, this will happen after we're already adults. Except when it doesn't. I lost my dad when I was young—suddenly, in a car crash. I never had a chance to say goodbye. He never had a chance to see me grow from a messed up girl into a much-less-messed-up woman. He died worried about me. I live with this. And yet, his early death shaped and transformed me in enormously positive ways. I grew up. I’ve spent my life trying to make him proud. We metabolize these sudden losses like shocks to our system, and they continue to live inside of us like fault lines, like the traumas they are. Ask anyone who has experienced any kind of shocking loss and they will tell you: the air today is just like it was on that day; the scent of hibiscus, of an oil refinery, of powdered donuts, brings it back. And suddenly the tears pool in our eyes, our hearts crack open. We live in all the beautiful, human brokenness of these losses. Our awareness becomes our teacher. Perhaps it even helps us to embrace the ordinary as the amazing turn of circumstance that it is.
5. The Death You Had to Face Day by Day
My mom died when I was already an adult—a mother myself. Her death was slow, expected. This made it no easier. Losses like this begin well before the person is gone, because we imagine the world going on without them. The anticipation of it is like a slow, steady burn. We become used to grieving. We hold their hands, press compresses to their wounds, watch as medication drips into their veins, all the while faced with the impossibility of our own powerlessness. This too, is beautiful, human brokenness.
6. The Therapist/Guru/Mentor You Outgrew
Certain relationships have a built-in expiration date—or at least, they should. After all, the point of having a therapist, a teacher, a guru, a mentor, is to grow – and that very evolution will eventually mean that the relationship comes to close. In the best cases, that intense bond we feel with someone who has helped us tremendously can morph and become something else—something more equal—perhaps even a friendship. For that to happen, though, we have to become willing to lose the dynamic of a relationship that has been, in effect, one-sided. We have been helped. Someone has done the helping. And now perhaps we can discover just how far we’ve come.
7. The Person You Thought You'd Be
When I was a kid, I thought I would grow up to be an actress. I thought I would live in New York City, in a high-rise apartment building, with my husband and family of, oh, five or six kids. I thought I’d live an urban, impossibly sophisticated life. Money would be no object. Perhaps there would be a private plane. (I should mention here that these fantasies were firmly rooted in the 1980's.) Well, I grew up and left the city for the country. I married and had one child—an only child, just like I had been. My husband and I work hard to make ends meet. But my life – my rich, imperfect, complicated, contented life—is the one I've built for myself. It’s an honest life. It’s a life of integrity. It’s a life I love. But to have it, I had to lose my fantasy straight out of the pages of a magazine of what it was that I thought I wanted – of who I thought I was. I was underselling myself, it turned out. To love, to really live is to become willing to lose people, places, things, dreams, even to lose versions of ourselves that no longer serve us. And in place of what is lost, something new emerges. It may not be what we imagined. But it is beautiful and it is ours.
Dani Shapiro is the author of Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life and Devotion, among other books. Find our more about her at DaniShapiro.com.