“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” -Henry David Thoreau
Yesterday I helped a friend with a project that he'd spent a lot of time, money, and energy planning as a surprise for someone he loves. I knew it meant a lot to him to do this–and do it well.
Things didn't work out as he had planned, partly due to some misguided advice I gave him. Since he'd been working on it for days, it was an incredible disappointment. I could see the sadness in his face as he saw the final product and realized it wouldn't make the impact he'd hoped it would.
I felt like it was partially my fault. But even if I hadn't given him bad advice, I suspect I still would have felt responsible for taking away his sadness. I have done it all through life. When I see someone hurting, I feel an imperative to make everything better. I make suggestions, I offer to do all kinds of things they likely need to do for themselves, and I generally try absorb their feelings with my extreme resistance to seeing and accepting them.
This is more about what I want–to not see someone hurting–than what the other person needs–to simply be with their feelings.
While his is a minor disappointment in the grand scheme of things, there will be other times when people around me are in immense pain. The same is true for all of us. People we know will stumble, and struggle, and maybe even fall apart. It will be hard to watch–perhaps even heartbreaking. Instinctively, we'll want to help in any way we can, and that's a good thing.
But people also need to be able to go through their own emotional processes, with pains big and small. Sometimes all we can do is be there, a silent but supportive witness to the sorrow.
We all need a hand every now and then, but most often we don't need a hero to save us; we need friends who understand when to step up and when to give us space to work through what we're feeling. Everything heals with time–being a friend means supporting that, not rushing it.
Photo by liveandrock