A strange thing has been happening lately. People have started interacting with me—people I don’t know from life outside the computer, I mean—and being nice to me. I don’t know why the sudden influx, but the fact that it’s all happened at once has made me a little bit paranoid. I’ve tried analyzing what these people might want, tried chalking it up to the politics of social media and my chosen profession, even decided that it was probably all some elaborate joke that I’m not in on.
It’s weird to be paranoid about someone saying something nice to you or talking to you at all. It makes you feel like an even worse person who should be kept even further away from society than you had originally thought. The instinct is to disappear for a while, give it all time to blow over. My husband and best friend have both been trying to help me be less crazy, but for all their good intentions, the craziness just keeps escalating. To the point where I’ve tried to convince myself that even they have ulterior motives for talking to me. This is how I know the situation has gotten out of hand. I’ve always been a little bit suspicious of people who are nice to me, but never of Josh. He is the one person I trust completely. God put him in my life to show me what unconditional love looks like and Josh has never once betrayed that bond. I shouldn’t be wondering why my own husband wants to be around me.
Then the other day, as crazy people sometimes do, I wondered, “What if everyone else is just being normal? What if I’m the one with the ulterior motives?”
I once told my friend that just because a nerve was deadened didn’t mean it was gone. Sometimes you feel the pain from dead nerves in other parts of your body. So if something else is hurting and you don’t know why, maybe you should check your dead nerves for cutlery.
In May, that friend chose to stop living. Since then, my life has been spent earnestly praying that my remaining friends won’t do the same. And little by little, seeing a change in myself that I never would have expected. While I’m trying to show as much love as possible for my friends and family, do anything I can to keep them happy and alive, I’ve been slowly preparing myself for the worst. Every time the phone rings, I know it’s bad news. Every time I get an email I’m sure it will be too late. I don’t want to hurt like that again, so a little bit at a time, I’ve been closing myself off from everyone.
Maybe that’s the real reason I’m trying so hard to be suspicious of everyone—because I don’t want to get so deeply invested in someone else’s life that I can be hurt like that again.
That feels like a very cliche, very self-centered thing to write. My friend killed himself; his wife and so many other people who loved him so much are fighting their way through existence in spite of the pain, and the only person I’m worried about is me. But it’s true. All this time, while my brain has been telling me, “The people who are being nice to you either want something from you or are playing a joke on you,” my heart’s been screaming, “Shut off! Get out now, before it’s too late!”
I used to think that thing about building emotional walls was just a cop-out. People who were afraid built walls and, by God, I would not be afraid of anything. I once told my friend, “For the record, I think you know that you could love someone like she said she loved you, but you’re choosing not to. […] People always act like love is this big, uncontrollable thing when really it’s just a series of conscious decisions.”
Look who’s eating their words now, right?
Last week, I was sitting in the truck with the boys and we were talking about their friends at preschool. Oak said, “I want everyone in the whole wide world to be my friend.” Bear immediately said, “I don’t.”
For me, both of those things feel true. I write for a lot of reasons, but the deep and abiding one is that I want to be able to reach people. In fact, in a sort of manifesto-rant I sent my friend once in response to his musings on suicide and existentialism, I said,
“I think a lot about existential meaninglessness. Like when I realize it’s Thursday instead of Monday and that even if it was Saturday it wouldn’t matter because nothing is different about this day of the week or that one. In two months, probably a year, I will be doing what I did today. […] What is the point of this? I wonder. Nothing is ever going to be different. I’m just killing time so that time will be over, not so I can get from here to anywhere else. […] All I really want to do with my life is make other people’s hearts hurt less. Not a realistic or measurable goal, but I do have a few specific hearts in mind. Yours is one. I’ve been given a whole lot of love I don’t deserve, enough second chances to exonerate a serial killer caught in the act, and that kind of thing shouldn’t stop with me. The phrase pay it forward grates on my nerves, but it’s an accurate description. […] The truth is that existentialism doesn’t really apply because the world we live in isn’t absurd or meaningless. Sometimes it seems like it is when we can’t see past what we’re taught is the big picture—the one that just involves our lives—to the real super-big picture of all the lives ever.”
I ended the email by saying, “Well, here we are. Where are we?” like Henry from The Extra Man because my friend was a fan of Jonathan Ames and because I was hoping it would make him laugh. When I can’t do anything to help, I try to make people laugh. Like Stephen King, I’m not proud. I’ll go for the gross-out.
I want people’s hearts to hurt less. I want them to know that they’re not alone, that there is meaning, that life isn’t just time killed so it will be over. I want them to know that God loves them and that I love them. But like I told my friend, I’m not entirely sure how to do this.
Maybe losing my friend launched me into a sort of crisis of faith. Not faith in God, but in love. I mean, I loved him so much—so many of us did—but it didn’t help. Maybe at some point over these past seven months, I decided the risk of being hurt wouldn’t be equal to the gain of loving someone, so I stopped trying.
This is something important, something I think I’ve been trying to forget: Love never was about me. It’s about reaching out to someone who might never have felt this kind of thing before. Maybe me loving someone can’t save them—as my sister pointed out, saving people is Jesus’ job, not mine—but maybe it can make their time on Earth a little better.
I made a promise once. I said that I would stay like this, with the barriers down, naked and vulnerable, with my hand out. Because if I can’t be completely honest with you, my readers and my friends, how can you believe me when I tell you something about God or Jesus or love? I wrote that it hurts to exist like this—and back then, I didn’t even know the half of it—but that I wouldn’t pull my hand back because what if I did and no one else reached out to you? I said I would rather let myself be hurt than take that chance.
So, I guess the long and short of it is that I have a choice to make. I have to decide whether it’s worth more to me, whether you, you who are reading this right now, are worth more to me than the pain and humiliation of loss and rejection. Whether I’m willing to risk the possibility of getting hurt or being made fun of or humiliated or rejected or whatever so I can be honest with you and love you and show you that you’re not alone.
I swear I’m going to try. With all my heart, I’ll try. I’ll do everything that I can. Because you are worth it. God thinks so, and so do I. If you don’t have anyone else, you have Him and me.
Something else that just occurred to me: What if the people whose friendliness I’m obsessing over are doing the same thing? What if where I am right now is on the opposite side of that stretched-out hand, the “you” these people are trying to show isn’t alone? Maybe there isn’t any rejection, not really. Maybe there’s just paranoia and fear and self-hatred and the inability to believe that someone else would want to be nice to you enough that they would take the chance and reach out.
Whoa. I think I just gave myself a brain tumor.
Well, here we are. Where are we?