Last month, while dining at a local restaurant, a Suffieldian I’ve known for almost 15 years came to our table and asked us how things were going, and I told her things were not perfect. She breathed this huge sigh of relief and revealed to us that things in her life were not perfect either. She then described how she felt this unrelenting pressure to project a façade of domestic tranquility. And, when she hears how great another person’s life is, she feels ashamed for not having the idyllic life. And, she’s tired of it.
“THAT,” she said pointing at me, “should be your next column in The Observer.”
And, so, here we are.
Problems are relative. Few people have perfect lives, and the ones who actually do, God bless you. You give us hope. For the most part, everyone’s lives are filled with trials and tribulations, no matter who you are.
There are a lot of reasons people are reluctant to share their troubles. Maybe they don’t want to be a burden. Maybe they are ashamed. Maybe they don’t want to think too much about whatever bothers them. Maybe they fear communal judgment, the chill of social censure and the cruelty of idle gossip. These are all legitimate concerns.
Couple those considerations with the fraying social fabric of our modern lives, and you can see how so many have fallen to anger, cynicism or despair. And, that can’t be good for anybody.
Coincidently, the same weekend I ran into my friend, our minister shared at the Sunday service a list of troubles that had befallen her and her family, including the death of her father. She was strong, indefatigable and forthcoming. Her message was that while it was understandable to shield one’s problems from the world, there are people who want to be that shoulder to lean or cry on. They can’t be if they don’t know they’re needed.
There is an illusion that because we as humans have risen above the requirement to band together for mutual protection and survival that somehow we have outgrown the primordial instinct to congregate.
If anything, the need has become more acute. As we become more insulated and weave our cocoon even tighter, there are fewer people we can entrust with our thoughts, concerns and, yes, problems.
Now, maybe we can outsource that need to licensed therapists at $100 an hour, but it’ll never be the same as confiding in another person who, in a moment of candor and vulnerability, can say “I know how you feel, and it gets better.”