It’s been a bad week. As I wrote about here, I lost one of my beloved dogs recently, and I’ve been in mourning since. I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’m dragging myself through my days and blinking my eyes forcefully to keep the stinging tears at bay. I know this too shall pass, and a part of me is satisfied that this state is a fitting tribute to my precious puppy… and then I just miss my beloved Beau and the blinking gets worse.
I am thankful that so many people have shared their stories of departed pets and the intense emotions associated with those deaths. Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone in my grief and the need to adjust to new circumstances. It’s comforting to know I am in the company of those who have walked in my current set of shoes.
As is often my practice when I am sad or depressed, I revisited an old favorite, the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. This is the series that hooked me in this genre, and I will be forever grateful. There is a passage in the first book, Dead Until Dark, which caught my attention this time around. Sookie is thinking about the many issues related to her telepathy – and to the fact she is dating a vampire. She would like to discuss her problems with a friend, but feels that no one is equipped to handle her difficulties because they are so far beyond the pale of everyone she knows. She’s right. And I can relate; it’s equally alienating when I feel alone with my problems and concerns.
There is a fine line between erroneously believing oneself to be terminally unique and an authentic expression of despair that others have never walked in our particular pair of Jimmy Choos. It’s one thing for a friend to commiserate over a bad breakup, or, in my case, the death of a beloved pet. It is quite another when we are alone in a position of authority or responsibility and there is no one with whom to share the burden of our own specific pain – when not everyone has walked in our current set of footwear.
For me, it was excruciating to grow up as the child of a narcissist in the age before the Internet. No one would believe the depth of my mother’s insanity. Except my brother, who had to squeeze into the same pair of awful shoes I was forced to wear. It’s why we were so close as children. My friends got glimpses of her craziness, but not the full extent of her particular brand of cray-cray. At first even my husband thought I was exaggerating. It took many years and many arguments where I felt he had taken her side against me before he finally, fully believed that to try to stay neutral in the war with my mother was to hand victory to her on a silver platter.
Sometimes, no matter how much we sympathize, we just can’t really know what’s it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. It’s why we are taught not to judge. But it’s also why we sometimes feel so isolated with our issues. We feel like we’re the only ones who know what we are going through. And in truth, we are, as we are absolutely incomparable and special and this moment cannot be identical for any two people. So there is some truth to our existential sequestration. But we all share the human condition, and the aphorism that there is nothing new under the sun. So while no one has walked in our shoes with our feet, it’s true, we all have feet and most of us have shoes. And while I’m a fan of professional therapy, a paid therapist cannot take the place of being understood by someone who loves us for free—it’s somewhat like the difference between a lover and a hooker—physically similar but emotionally…so very far apart.
This is the beauty and the blessing of my various friends. Depending on my specific problem du jour, I can reach out to one or more of them to listen and understand. Mostly, my friends truly get it, and in so doing it relieve me of the loneliness of feeling like a freak—abandoned in my weirdness, solitary in my singularity. This is also the role of spirituality—the idea that where humanity may fail us, that which is greater than ourselves (however we each define that) will not. Apparently, the Universe has more shoes than Imelda Marcos, and can always identify with whatever it is we’re going through. In any case, we should all make like Winston Churchill and remember that if we are going through Hell, we shouldn’t stop to admire the scenery.
But despite this great self-talk, and the outlet that is this blog, I still feel terminally unique on occasion, and therefore completely alone. This is likely the result of a touch of my own hereditary narcissism, because, after all, the apple rarely falls far from the tree. But then I remember that I’m half my father’s daughter as well, and the co-creator of my own destiny, so I can’t be all that bad, and maybe I’m a lot like everyone else in feeling that I’m all by myself sometimes. Just like our fingerprints and our DNA, there are things about all of us that are just ours, so it’s possible that occasionally we walk will without any human companionship of the emotional and spiritual variety. And then we’re lonely. At those times we can remember the legions of others in various Jimmy Choo designs and know that we belong to the sisterhood of sore feet and the brotherhood of bad shoes wherever we all tread.