I don’t want to share her name, not just because her story is hers—messy, heartachy, depleting and private—but because nearly every one of my good friends is struggling with something similarly big and distressing.
Life leaves none of us unscathed.
Essentially, my enchilada friend represents all my friends. She’s staring at an enormous boulder that’s been dropped rather unceremoniously in front of her. She didn’t ask for this boulder. She’s tired of the boulder and just wants to get around it and move on.
[The boulder = adultery, ailing parents, anxiety, children with special needs, depression, divorce, financial instability, grief, health concerns, infertility, job unrest, loneliness, loss, marital discord, mental illness, sexual harassment. Take your pick. Come up with more. They all work.]
“But what can I do?” my friend asked me, with the tiniest suggestion of a wail. A chunk of my heart chipped right off as I heard the plaintiveness in her voice.
I rummaged through my brain for a nugget of advice—something she could say or do to mitigate her current terrible circumstances—and came up exactly nothing. She’s at the point where there isn’t one single action she can take to make her boulder more bearable or pleasant. It’s sitting there, and it’s not going to roll away anytime soon.
But something unexpected did spring to mind as I was trying to offer comfort. I suppose it’s something I’ve done for awhile without recognizing or acknowledging it, but here it was, bubbling up into my consciousness, an urgent message for my suffering friend.
“Talk to your future self,” I said, putting down my fork. She tilted her head at me.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Really,” I said. “Talk to your future self. She knows you better than anyone and she’s been through all of this already. She can reassure you that you’re stronger than you think you are.”
I believe this to be true and proceeded to tell my friend as much.
It’s easy to look back over our lives and glean a sense of perspective from past experiences; we embrace our hard-earned wisdom, which of course becomes part of our emotional fiber and self-identity. But why don’t we ever turn our gaze forward, to the clever, prudent, discerning woman we are inherently fated to become? She’s out there. And she knows a lot more than we do right now. At the very least, she can wrap us in tenderness and remind us, It might not be easy, but you will get through this. I’m proof that you will make it to the other side.
“Just give it a try,” I implored my friend.
And I think she did, because she ripped off a corner of her paper placement and wrote it down: Talk to my future self. She tucked it into her pocket as we hugged goodbye.
I credit Elizabeth Gilbert for shaping my thoughts on this matter. In 2006, when I read her extraordinary memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” I was sweaty and emotional by the time I reached the last page. More than a decade later, I recall Gilbert’s conclusion as being formidable.
Yesterday, I pulled out my battered old copy of the book and sure enough, there it was. The glorious last page: dog eared, underlined, and unmistakably the origin of my subliminal conviction that our luminous, all-knowing selves persist somewhere in the wide-open future, patiently waiting for us to arrive.
“[Zen Buddists] say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree… But…there is another force operating here as well—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity… The already-existent oak...saying the whole time: ‘Yes!—grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholeness and maturity! I need you to grow into me!’”
I’m going to send my friend a copy of this paragraph. She needs to know that although she’s got one hell of a boulder blocking her way, she’s also got an acorn and an oak tree.