“How often we find ourselves turning our backs on our actual friends, that we may go and meet their ideal cousin.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Kirsetin Morello is leading a fascinating project on her blog. Every Monday she posts words that intrigue her, move her, interest her. On Wednesday she shares her reflections on those words and invites others to do the same. These words from Thoreau, which I had never read before, are this week’s featured quote.
Thoreau’s words remind of the adage that the perfect is the enemy of the good. They also remind me something I’ve said before, which is that for many of us the central task of adulthood is letting go of what we thought our lives would be like. We compare what is to what we wanted, or imagined, and very often reality falls short of those dreams. And so we fall, over and over again, into the perilous lacuna between the vision and the truth.
It’s only after we are sufficiently bruised from these falls that we stand up, brush ourselves off, and realize: no more comparing. Instead we vow to turn our gaze to what is here, now, and to embrace that for what it is.
Of course this is true, too, for friends. While I think Thoreau’s point has broad resonance beyond actual friendships, it is relevant with respect to those we love, also. Many years ago I realized, for example, that I’d have only a handful of truly intimate friends, native speakers who I felt understood everything about me. I mourned this truth for a little while, not because I wanted more of these friends of the heart but because mine were not local, and I ached for them. But then, in an adjunct realization, I allowed myself to understand that there were great benefits to friends who were not connecting with every single dimension of me every single minute. There were, once I let myself enjoy them, great joys to be had with friends who were fabulously fun to drink wine with, or fascinating to talk about books with, or partners-in-mothering with whom I could share the nitty gritty details of my son’s latest tantrum. And so what if it wasn’t a single person spanning all of those realms? That was okay.
Let’s not turn our backs on our friends, or on our lives, because what is ideal is not real, and the holding one up to the other results in nothing but anguish. Instead, may we learn to lean into those friends and that truth that is right here, now, imperfect and wonderful all at once.
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