And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

Khalil Gibran


Sometimes when I don’t expect it, the TV news breaks my heart. Recently, a woman described her anguish over a daylong interruption in her Internet service. She sat with her computer, alone and small, in her drab living room and relayed to the reporter the story of how, for an inconceivable 24 hours, she had been unable to contact any of her 800 Facebook friends. This was not an inconvenience for her; it was a wound that left a gaping hole in her life. As I listened to her experience, I was profoundly affected by the story beneath the story, the real one, about loneliness. Why was no one discussing that? Here was an individual who, when severed from her virtual “friends”, did not have a living human being to call upon. That to me, was news.

I tired to imagine a day in the life of an individual with 800 Facebook friends. Alone in cyberspace, logged on to Facebook mining other people’s lives for the hope buried in inspirational quotes, the vicarious happiness of other’s holidays, families and parties all with the nasty bits of real life (the parts where you are at odds with your family, work at a stressful job, have a mood disorder or are alone) scrubbed out. Or perhaps instead, I’d imagine being someone who preferred to zero in on cyber friends who aren’t shy about their chaotic lives and talk nonstop about painful issues. That might make me feel more together and thus, superior.

Regardless of which path I chose, I hope at some point I would take a step back from my virtual life and remember that real friendships unlike virtual friendships, are not free of commitment. Real friends want me to share with them my presence, my support, my time, my love or just a phone call. A friendship exists because two people have chosen to invest in each other and in the giving, are both rewarded. It is the reciprocity between two individuals that cements the bond of friendship and makes it one of the most rewarding of human experiences.

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Never before the advent of Facebook could a single human claim to have 800 friends and at the same time, none at all. I am lucky to have a handful of friends and for me, they are everything that I need. When it comes to friendship, if the Internet was down, I would not notice. Along with my family, my friends guarantee that I am never alone.

Last photo from Tumblr

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Am I Enough?

“Take someone who doesn’t keep score,who’s not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing,
who has not the slightest interest evenin his own personality: he’s free.”

What does it mean to be the best? It means you have to be better than the number two guy. But what gratification is there in that? He’s a loser—that’s why he’s number two.” 

Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not for Sale

tumblr_mpyo32Zqcs1s29z6to1_1280Being competitive. Is it a genetic or a learned behavior? Competition can be a game, a fight, a sport, a struggle or all of these things simultaneously. Like it or not, life can be a jungle and being competitive gives you a machete.

I understand competition and I have never shied from it. In life, and fiercely so in youth, I behaved as if I was hard wired for competition, but as I age the chase no longer gives me a buzz. The arena of winners and losers has become dated, stale and if I have anything left to prove I don’t seem to remember what it is. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I have shed that skin and as a result, get to spend more time in the present and less in the past.tumblr_n96atkxbx11te2jguo1_500

When I can now so easily jettison a competitive mindset it makes me doubt that I am hard wired for the game and suggests instead, a learned behavior, one learned in childhood and probably in the family home.

My childhood was not chaotic or unsafe, it was far from the misery that many endure, but it was uncertain. In the early years, my family was composed of three separate camps held together by a common thread: my mother and myself; a stepfather with his two daughters and my mothers and step dad’s son, a loosley bound amalgam of strangers. This was not a storybook family; it was a real one, typical of our time. Individual members came with typical burdens –death of spouses and parents, illness, grief, and at first, we were bound to each other, defined more by what we had lost than what we had gained.tumblr_lzan87137u1r85rpno1_500

It is hard to get attention in a melded family unless you compete. And so I did. The tools I had were a modicum of athletic ability, a decent mind and the ability to work hard. I flogged these tools and never stopped; at school, university, medical school and in sports. Competition morphed from a tool into a lifestyle.. Reflecting on the circumstance years later, I realize that as a child, the purpose of all that effort was simply to answer two questions: In the eyes of others, Am I enough? , and, sadly buried deep in the heart of the first qustion something more pressing;  Am I worthy of being loved?

Every human is born with these questions in the soul. Life is the journey we undertake to answer them. Being competitive is a tool we employ to prove  to ourselves and others that we are enough, but eventually  one may confuse being victorious with being loved. I have come to believe that while competition increases one’s chances of survival, it separates the self from others and makes us more alone, more in the past. When we are born, we are already enough and worthy of love although it takes a lifetime to arrive at this understanding. A life well lived is one that ends with shedding the competitive skin of youth and replacing it with the mantle of self-acceptance and self respect. It’s been there all along – you just have to put it on.

Photos from Tumblr