Monday, December 5, 2016

Fissures and closure

I have wanted for weeks now to write about the past presidential election. Happily, I've waited, rewritten, reconsidered, and have shortened my rather bitter diatribe. I guess God's hand reached down and helped me erase the hurtful things I'd written in reactive haste; hopefully what I've penned more recently will be a more intelligent, sensitive response to how I've been feeling.

But still, the election. Wow. Sordid stuff overall. The entire experience has left an aftermath of division and hard feelings on all sides. Such an ugly campaign leaves behind a foul flavor in the mouth of every decent human being, and also a slew of destroyed friendships.

Now, some of the lost were "friends" (insert emoji or thumbs-up icon here). And most of those lost friendships don't hurt much. It's upsetting, yes, but I'm guessing that most of you, like me, can't feel too distressed over the loss of someone with whom you rarely (or never) spoke.

The lost friendships that I write about today are the at least somewhat genuine friendships. The people with whom you have a history other than online. These are the folks you are quite likely to see in the real world again, maybe even on a frequent basis. The ones you might have actually enjoyed talking with. When members of your meaningful circle dump you? Yeah, that stings a bit.

At the same time, though, these losses have begun to feel inevitable to me. What I mean is that in the cases of now-dissolved friendships killed by the election, I can't say that any of them came as a complete surprise. There were signs all along, funny looks when I spoke my true opinion about things, awkward laughter and raised eyebrows in my general direction, or just silence as a reply... Am I sad that these people and I cannot have a calm, informed dialect about important subjects? Yes. However, the past months have confirmed my suspicions as fact: those former friends and I had irreconcilably different beliefs about some pretty fundamental things.

It is much easier to get along with everyone agreeably when there is nothing on the line. In peacetime, at coffee dates and school events, and in the virtual world of cat videos, we can gloss over a lot of differences. Everyone likes pizza and puppies, right? Here's a funny meme, haha! Your child scored a point, hurray! We're friends!!! Companions are plentiful when there is no real-life tipping point forcing our hairline relationship cracks into the light.

For that is what this election has done: it has exposed pre-existing relationship cracks. The invisible lines have given way to small fissures; they weren't even discernible before, but now they yawn before us like small crevasses. That stress fracture was there all along; it required only the conversational beating of dead horses in order to be revealed. And then? Unfriends abound.

I'm going to choose to view this election season as a small but effective hammer that has brought my social stress fractures into the light. And in the same way that I've decided never to finish reading an unassigned book that I don't like, I am also coming to realize more and more that it's okay not to keep up appearances of friendships. Life is too short to expend physical and emotional energy by pouring into unfruitful relationships.

In one of my favorite books, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the author mentions how difficult is to keep up with expanding social demands: "For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication." If that woman thought it was tough over 60 years ago, then imagine the challenge now! There is no feasible way you can keep up with every single contact you've encountered. There is also, I would suggest, no real reason whatsoever for attempting to do so.

Trees and bushes benefit greatly from a timely, informed trimming. (Hats off to a former co-worker, Facie, for coining this great concept!) Our social contact list can often be enriched by a good trim. That doesn't mean I will be trying to alienate anyone, or that it's acceptable to be mean or rude. Be cordial, be kind, be respectful—especially to those who disagree, as they're the most challenging. But be honest with yourself when you encounter and recognize a time- and energy-sucking situation that isn't going to change; see it truly as the fracture it is. Acknowledge it. Then smile, bite your tongue, let go the friend, and skip away to freedom and peace.