|This is not a picture of Gus. It|
is the last sunrise of 2015.
I grew rich in 2015.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time watching people and thinking about what they do and, of course, eavesdropping in restaurants. If you've read this blog before, you know about my field trips to the supermarket, where connections between people are always on sale.
In 2015, I walked into a bar where my husband and I go for dinner now and then. A regular, about fifty and a dead ringer for Neil Young, squinted at me for several moments before he pointed at me with his glass. "I think I know you," he said. "You a townie?" I said, "Define townie." He slid a chair up, and in a half hour, we were arguing over which was the best Rolling Stones song ever.
In 2015, I had a conversation with a man on a plane that started when he unplugged from his iPod, folded his arms, stared out the window for several minutes, then looked at me and said, "So what takes you to Cleveland?" Before the plane landed, I knew where he'd spent childhood summers, the siblings he was closest to, and the massive struggle each were facing as the first Christmas since his mother's recent and sudden death loomed. "We got together last night to decide who would make her favorite dishes," he said. "It was pretty rough."
In 2015, I published two of the most honest essays I'm capable of. In one case, the piece connected me to others on an emotional level that astounded me. It brought multiple comments of appreciation and expressions of deep love. In another, I hit a nerve in readers who were not inspired, but eager to be vicious. One took a swing and the rest piled on.
Gentle essayist that I try to be, I was suddenly Piggy in Lord of the Flies.
But I learned something I will never forget. People, all people, will find and cluster around those who identify with their deepest feelings, the good, bad and ugly. They may be too blinded by their relief at belonging to know or care how they affect others. But if they can belong, they will actually take part in killing Piggy.
On the surface, we want to be like some, and try hard to be as different as possible from others. But when people are honest, and when they are asked with sincerity, and when they know their deepest feelings won't be held against them, it is stunning to realize that we crave commonality enough to find it in a conversation with a stranger.
Connection is that important.
For some, happiness is elusive and for others, impossible. I believe however, that for most, happiness is within reach. But it's not free. It takes real connection with another that is void of judgement, and heavy with truth and acceptance and curiosity about what is in the heart and mind of someone else. It takes trust, something I believe people hold onto like their biggest, private secret.
With that, I give you my unscientific, but honest impressions of how we get along, how we don't, and how we should, in 2016.
1. We need to recognize when someone's reaching out to us and respond. We're more important to people than we realize.
2. People are as loving as they feel loved. Judgmental, critical people show how little love exists in their own lives, and it goes the other way; loved, happier people are more open and accepting and tend to forgive their own mistakes more easily.
3. We should think about our words and why we must say them, but we should think hard about how another will hear them, which may not be at all the way we intended.
4. Solutions to other people's problems that seem obvious to us may not be easy, or even possible for them to carry out. Rarely are we the experts on another's true life that we think we are.
5. If there's a right thing to do, and for some reason we won't, our rationale will not look the same way, years from now. Even if it takes a long time, people should do the right thing. Even if it's complicated. Even if it hurts.
6. Pessimists are generally unhappy people, but they weren't born that way. It only takes a little heartbreak for people to believe that bad things are inevitable and good things are accidental. We should feel for them. We won't catch anything.
7. When we wrong someone unintentionally, and we've said we're sorry, and tried to show that we really are, and they still wish to hold it against us, it's time to realize they can't forgive because they don't want to. Sometimes, apology only moves one of us closer to the middle.
8. It is not loving someone to tolerate who they are. Loving someone means wanting them to be nothing less than their truest, real self and changing your ideas of them accordingly.
9. We should not share personal, private things about our kids, and we should never tell people what they make.
10. Some people who are stupid about what to say, would die before they'd hurt you on purpose.
11. We speak in headlines too often. We should have real points of view that mean something to us and let other people think the way they must.
12. If others insist on seeing us as we were, and not as we are, give them time. You didn't change overnight.
|THIS is a picture of Gus.|
14. Don't lie to people who know who you really are and love you. They'll know you're doing it, and they won't say so.
15. And finally, after a year of field trips to stores and banks and restaurants and doctor's offices, after months of observing people – all people – who are most real when they don't know someone is watching, I offer two essential rules to getting along with others:
First, let people come out before you go in. And second, don't block the intersection.
In 2016, be honest, be kind and may your happiest connections grow stronger.