Wednesday, December 05, 2018

This Difficult, Miserable Thing

Yesterday, some of the four and five-year-old girls were planning a sleep over. I found out about it when a couple of the boys complained that they weren't invited because they were boys. Later, predictably, one of the girls was in tears over this imaginary sleep over, her face contorted with the sort of anguish that can only result from a broken heart. Friendship can be a difficult, miserable thing.

My wife and I have just returned from a long weekend in New York City where our daughter Josephine is a senior at NYU. We've been back to visit her several times over the past four years and each time we've set aside at least one evening for entertaining her friends with a meal and a few drinks in a decent restaurant. This time there were eleven of us, some of whom I'd met before, while some I only knew by reputation.

The group has evolved since she was a freshman, but many of her closest friends have remained the same over the years, becoming the sorts of friendships that one hopes will last a lifetime. My wife and I love these evenings, this chance to get a glimpse into our child's life outside the nest, to hear these smart, talented young people tell us stories and share their feelings about our girl. I've not always liked her friends over the years, but I'm quite fond of these kids, and, more importantly to this father, they seem to be quite fond of our girl.

In the aftermath of these evenings it's impossible to not reflect on Josephine as a preschooler, where I, as a parent in a cooperative school, was there from the start of this lifelong quest to connect with other people through friendship. It has been a long, not always joyful road, one of tears, anger, and disappointment. The heartbreak is no one's fault, of course, it's built into the process. The project of becoming intimate with these other people requires opening one's self up to them and it's often a vulnerable place to be. As I watched this girl on our playground yesterday being comforted, I recalled the many times that I had tried to comfort young Josephine under almost identical circumstances.

It's a necessarily painful process, I think. I recall my own heartbreaks, those moments when I felt that my love had been cruelly betrayed or rebuffed. We all have our long, tormented histories, rife with times when we could do nothing but cry. Many of us are scarred, hardened. Some are truly damaged. This is why when we see it happening with our children, our hearts break along with theirs. We all have vast experience with this and none of us ever become experts.

Yet, most of us persevere, as did the girl on our playground who found herself on the outside of a sleep over that will never happen. We let our feelings flourish, we find that time does indeed heal, at least partially. Some of us learn something from this or that heartbreak, but others of us will make the same mistake over and over again, as we strive to figure out this difficult, miserable thing. It's sometimes a wonder that we keep trying, but we do, driven by nature, filled with renewed hope, because this is why we are here: to connect with the other people through the love that we call friendship. We do it because in the end it's through and alongside the other people that we create a life worth living.

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