I received a call from an old college friend. It went the way you’d expect such calls to go. A lot shrieking, plenty of laughs, some quiet introspection and a lot more “I am so happy to be talking to you.” I really am. This is more than nostalgia. We spend our 20s running smack-dab into life and learning to deal with adulthood. It’s jobs, marriage, economy, kids, loans, new homes, first health scares. The 30s have been less frenzied but also lonelier. Slowing down to catch our breaths, realising we’ve taken on wounds that won’t heal unless we do so. It’s chronic ailments, debt, cheating, divorce, career changes, addiction, depression, suicide or at the very least the thought of it. I’m not completely out clear of this decade yet but I’m on the last leg.
My friend talked about some the struggles of the past decade, personal, professional and health and also how people never really understand. My friend thinks he is the only one. Maybe because I always did things on different schedule from my peers (the first dropout, the last one with a boyfriend, the last to get a job, the first sabbatical, one of the few as yet not married, an early entrepreneur), I understand this at some level already. But I frequently forget.
Recently I’ve found myself dropping off revived friendships and conversations, because I don’t feel like explaining a broken engagement or a rising corporate career quit to follow a creative dream. My life feels like such a mess compared to other people. I terminate before it can get to the dreaded question,
“Why can’t you be more normal?”
It is there, if not in words, then in people’s eyes hanging with questions they are too polite to ask. Or in very tense silences when neither I nor they know what to say, and we’re both thinking back to when conversations ran free in a way that we didn’t even know freedom could be.
Yet, as my friend shared, I realised, we’re all living through lives that look very different from the Adarsh Balak posters. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe this is real life. We’re surviving (or not) situations that we are unprepared for and for a number of reasons, we assume it’s our fault. We assume that these situations are aberrations from the perfect life, rather than the life itself. We also forget and keep forgetting that all things pass, all things change. And most importantly, we forget in a spectacularly isolating manner that we are not alone. Maybe we go on so long with nobody actually seeing us as we are, that we start to believe the universe does not want to see us. Reconnecting to someone who saw us, at least once long ago is a reminder that we are not insubstantial ghosts. We are. We bear witness to each other’s lives.
In this same group, I pinged someone who used to be a dear friend with ‘Remember me?’. Her instant reply
“The first feminist of our batch!”
This tickled and charmed and befuddled me in so many ways. Was I? Did I even know what feminism was? I was just muddling through the daily stumbling blocks put in a teenager’s life in the best way I could. Did I carry XX Factor (my former feminist blog) and SXonomics (a feminist performance band I co-founded) in me long before these ideas were even conceptualised? Did the people around me see some ideal in me that I couldn’t see? And wonder of wonders, does how I turned out seem ‘normal’ to them? Does my life actually make sense to some others even when it doesn’t to me? This is a profound realisation. Also one that leaves me a satisfied sort of tired. We are not the sole witnesses to our lives.
My friend told me that he reads my daily poetry and that it helps him go on, some days. I can only feel immense gratitude for the technology that allowed my friend to feel my support, even when I was absent in every way. I’ve heard a few people say this before and perhaps my reaction has not been gracious. But to be read is to be welcomed into a person’s mind and heart. It is a privilege, an honour given to me. I should only be grateful. And now I am.
So for all the friends I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet in person and those of you who welcome me into your lives without my ever having seen you – thank you. You bear witness to my life and I am very grateful. If my words mean anything to you, please consider it my way of bearing witness to yours. You are not alone.