Saturday, January 02, 2010

Lessons of 2009 (Part II): Amazing Friends Equal Happiness

A couple of months ago, in the midst of massive personal upheaval, I commented to my sister that I was extremely fortunate to have so many exceptional people love me! Her response, rather predictably, was to thank me for thinking her exceptional.

So I clarified: "Actually, I am speaking of my friends. Family has no choice but to love me." (Further note: My sister did make a very good point that the above is not quite true. A lot of families are unhappy enough and feel no need or motivation to love each other).

But getting back to the point: 2009 was the year of learning just how many extraordinary people form part of my life. For most part, they have very little in common with each other - except me. This was highlighted when we were at a house party over my birthday: my friends didn't necessarily know each and shared even less. They were drawn from different parts of the world and hold wildly divergent interests, political ideas and world views.

Lets be honest: a dance school owner, a clown, a banker, a terrorism expert and a bar owner have very little in common, although it does sound like the opening line of a long, complicated joke. And yes, that is just a cross-section of those who travelled from around the globe to be at my birthday.

I have thought about it a great deal since that party and finally realised that despite the overt differences, my friends share one thing in common: their incredible passion for life and their insistence on living each moment of it. Not one of them follows rules set by others nor tries to conform to what is expected of them by social norms. It is a tougher way to live as they often fight harder for what they believe, have more complex (and often unachievable) ambitions, and always inhabit liminal spaces regardless of the company they keep and societies they live in. And yet, they would have it no other way, choosing over and over again to live their lives on the "tip of the rabbit's fur" (to paraphrase Jostein Gaarder).

They are extraordinary not only because they are deeply loyal and caring, but also because they are good at nurturing others' ambitions and dreams. No matter how outrageous the ambition, or how far the goal, none of them ever seems to voice a doubt. Instead each wild idea provokes gales of laughter and then a determined attempt to see how the person chasing it can be supported.

Before this all begins to sound too happy-shiny-people-y, let me point out that none of this means their lives are perfect. Indeed far from it! Living at the tip of the rabbit's fur seems to mean making more and crazier mistakes to learn from, and falling lower and harder and far more often than those who live safer, more conformist lives. Despair when it strikes one of us seems deeper and darker than for most others, and perhaps because of it, happiness is also shinier and brighter than others.

An acquaintance told me some years ago that she found just hearing about my life exhausting. Looking back at 2009, I realise just how much living my friends have packed into a single year. Not surprisingly, anyone without the same passion for living each moment seems to fall quickly by the wayside: partners, lovers, and new friends who are initially attracted by energy and passion often find the pace tiring. Worse still, I am beginning to realise that far too many people choose emotional safety even if it means stagnation and misery over taking chances and living fully. Yet when one of us meets a partner or friend with the same kind of passion, they quickly become part of our lives, linked not by any shared interest but by what my sister once termed the "wooo-hooooo" factor (as in the ability to go through life as if on a perpetual exciting rollercoaster)

My mother says that lots of people like grabbing the tail of a comet but they can't last the ride. 2009 made me realise my friends are like those comets. We all have different paths and trails, and we don't always manage to be in the same country, or same life-path to be able to connect except very briefly. On the other hand, there is always a mutual recognition of eachother's blazing paths. And there is an instinctive respect for our shared ability to embrace life - no matter what it holds - regardless of the risk and and pain. Perhaps, thats why we stay friends.

And for that, I am very grateful.