First, you are awesome! I'm so happy your health has improved!
Now, I live in Los Angeles. I moved here from New Mexico 10 years ago. Can you tell me what is wrong with everyone here? Where are the nice people? When I try to be nice they look at me like a hopeless simpleton. When they try to "act" nice it never feels sincere. Like part of a show.
Like dinner parties where everyone has to leave at 8 because the host is going out later with "other people." Or people invite you out with them to a play and then they spend the whole time on their cellphone texting someone and making plans to meet them "as soon as the play is over." And then asking you to drop them off at this other person's house. Is this normal behavior?
I'm 42. Female. Normal, boring job. Married. No kids. Don't want kids. Kinda nerdy. I try to make friends here at work. Give gifts. Make muffins. Make amusing remarks. Invite people to do a wide variety of activities with me. Sailing? Symphony? Hiking? Auto racing? Air show? No dice.
My co-workers are mostly about 25. Like to party. Never heard of libraries or space stations. Much thinner and prettier. Don't like to read. But I'm their friend even if they don't know it! I'm everyone's friend! I'm looking out for people all the time, even if they don't know it. I fix the lid on the trash can. I pick up the trash from the floor. I let people merge in front of me on the freeway. I leave my change in the vending machine so someone will have a nice surprise!
I once decorated a Christmas tree on the side of the road!
I'm ready to be a hero if an "active shooter" shows up at work. But I feel like no one is my friend. Who's looking out for me? Who's being my hero? Who's leaving me a nice surprise? Where are the other nice people? The people in Minnesota seemed nice. They take their headphones off when they talk to you. They talk to you even if you are a size 16.
Do I sound mopey and self-pitying? But I'm not! It's just that it's Christmas and I send out cards and I don't get any back! Only from my dentist! What's wrong with everyone!?!
Why is everyone such a bad tipper? Why do people yell at each other in church parking lots!?! Why do people take you out to lunch one day and then the next day complain to your boss that you talk too much?! Why does someone say her wedding reception was "ruined" because her mother-in-law wore the wrong color dress? That's crazy, right? That's L.A., right? L.A. is making me crazy, right?
In L.A., at a wedding I went to, the only decorations were pictures of the bride -- that's not right, is it? Giant posters of the bride? A website of the bride? A video of the bride on an endless loop? Party favors with teeny-tiny pictures of the bride? And she doesn't greet her guests because she's too busy getting more pictures taken! Is it me? That's crazy, right? Or do I just not appreciate how exciting it is to be young and beautiful? Should I hang out with the old and deformed? Would they like me better after plastic surgery?
I can't even watch TV shows like "Entourage" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" anymore because it's not funny. It's real! It's true!
I watch the BBC a lot. I like them. Could I make friends in England? And go out for lunch and then a museum and nobody has to leave early to visit someone more fun?
Is it the Internet? Am I 42 in real years but 95 in Internet years? Are my ideas of friendship, truth, sincerity, generosity and character "old-fashioned?" Is the difference between "real" friends and "virtual" friends not even a meaningful distinction anymore? Is the "face" in Facebook unnecessary?
Am I too particular? If they invite me to a midnight karaoke bar in a bad part of town, should I just say yes, down three Red Bulls, grit my teeth and bear it? Are they trying? Or were they counting on me saying no?
Is there a place I can go where this "Laverne and Shirley" idea of friendship is alive and well? Or is my romantic idea just a dream? Should I just stage a retreat? Move to a lighthouse?
Laverne Seeking Shirley
This was a very funny letter. Thank you.
The important thing to remember is that mean people may look beautiful and have lots of money and be surrounded by people who call themselves friends but if they are mean and thoughtless then they are suffering. They are suffering, for want of a more elegant phrase, their distance from God. They are suffering mankind's age-old separation from the divine, which means separation from self.
When they cut us off on the freeway or finish dinner early so they can go be with their more interesting friends, there's nothing really to do but know and remember that at the heart of their rude, arrogant and clueless behavior is suffering that is as old as mankind. It is the invisible suffering of the soul. It is distance from God and self. One needn't believe in a god to see this. It can just as easily be seen from an atheistic point of view as the failure to see clearly and rationally one's unhappiness and take steps to alleviate it through empirically proven techniques.
This suffering is many things. It is ego-hunger. It is amnesia about the ecstasy of childhood, amnesia about the soul-delighting pleasures of physical love, amnesia about the love of the universe for us. It is emptiness filled with egotistical nervousness. It is the cowardice of routine that fears to imagine change and refuses to imagine how our little selfish actions might harm others.
Yesterday I had a routine medical appointment with a busy specialist at one of the world's finest teaching and research hospitals. It took an amazingly long time to be seen. My appointment was for 11 a.m. I was not actually seen until 4.
As I waited I meditated. I traveled back to my childhood. I was a pretty smart kid and I understood the basic chemical process of respiration. So I was sitting by myself in this room in the hospital meditating and thinking about respiration, how respiration is just one way that life can express itself. I just sat there, breathing and thinking about breathing as a universal principle of being. I was thinking about how breathing makes rhythm and the basic in-out motion such a big part of being alive. I was thinking about some big rocks down at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens where I spent some time when I was down at Loma Linda getting radiation treatments, and how these rocks were very alive but very old, and how they did not partake of respiration but of some other soul-being, some other kind of life, a mineral life, a mineral majesty like that we see in our own moon.
I just sat there for a long time in that room in the hospital by myself. From time to time as I waited I would become anxious: Had they forgotten me? But the nurses assured me they knew I was there. So I just sat there and breathed and meditated and I began to think about how lucky I was; if I were living somewhere with poor medical care I would be dead now, or I would be crippled and in pain. I thought about what it would be like if I had come from many thousands of miles away, at great personal expense, and how a few hours' wait would be nothing.
Finally, after a very long time, the doctor arrived. He apologized for the long wait. I told him what I had been thinking about while I was meditating -- about how, if I were a very important person, I might be outraged by the long wait, but how, if I were a person from a third-world country, who had traveled a great distance to be in this world-class medical facility, I might consider a wait of a few hours to be trivial. I might feel grateful.
This seemed to bring a change over the doctor. I like to think that in that moment, harried as he was, and no doubt feeling the burden of apologizing to each and every patient for the long delay, he was reminded of our common humanity. As I left he handed me his card and thanked me for my ... he had to search for the right word ... kindness.
Kindness! I suppose it was kindness.
It was also my consciously chosen way of managing my response to things beyond my control, for I am no saintly paragon of good will! Mostly just like these people you run into in L.A., I am usually rushing around, trying to get other people out of my way so I can get what I want. When I am unhappy I really should not leave the house but sometimes food must be procured or errands run and so someone will be my victim; someone, a person at a checkout counter or a person serving food, will be exposed to this cold, arrogant, annoyed look on my face, the face of a man who is unhappy at having to leave the warm comfort of his own meditations, alienated from the divinity in himself, petulant, rude, just barely this side of homicidal, and that person will no doubt think to herself, What is wrong with people?
Indeed, what is wrong with us? What is wrong with us is that we are suffering and this is our condition: Estranged from God, estranged from our own divinity, estranged from our own childlike innocence, estranged even from our own pain, we carry our suffering out into the world and spread it like a pestilence.
So when you encounter behavior like this, all I can suggest is that you remember to have compassion for the suffering of others. This compassion will eventually extend to yourself, and it will make everything better.