Sometimes I think I’m a terrible friend. Don’t get me wrong, I care about each and every friend I have, deeply and sincerely. I know I’m lucky to have them in my life and what a gift those relationships are. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m nowhere near the kind of friend I want to be, and that bothers me.
Last weekend my husband and I went to dinner with a couple of very good friends we have known for more years that I care to count. We had a great time, eating good food and catching up on what was going on in each other’s lives. It was a fun evening and one I thought had gone very well, until after I was home and it hit me that I had not once asked my friend about how her sister was doing. The sister who had been fighting a very serious cancer and who, the last time I actually remembered to ask, was still struggling to fully recover.
All too often, that’s exactly the kind of friend I am: the one who doesn’t remember to ask the important questions. The one who doesn’t always manage to keep track of what is going on in her friends’ lives, which means I’m also the one who sometimes doesn’t give the kind of support that her friends need and that I really, really want to give them.
I know what the problem is, and it’s not a lack of compassion. The problem is that I don’t seem to have the ability to keep track of large quantities of information, no matter how important that information happens to be. Like almost everyone else these days, I’m constantly bombarded with information that needs to be acknowledged, processed and categorized so that it can be retrieved when needed. But in my case, the information is usually misfiled somewhere in the depths of my tiny little brain.
I can remember what I want to ask someone about until that person is actually standing in front of me, or I’m talking to them on the phone. That’s the exact moment that I can remember only that I need to schedule a vet appointment for my dog, get a flu shot, take our passports back to the safety deposit box, and drop some food off at my mother’s house. Later, when I’m standing in my basement trying to remember what I went down there for, I’ll remember that I want to ask about a good friend how her recent job interview went. (Not that I’ll actually ask her, since she’s not standing in my basement at that exact moment.)
I worry that my over-stretched memory means that my friends and family must think I am self-centered, and worse, that I don’t really care about what is going on in their lives and that they can’t count on me for support when they need it. The truth is, I couldn’t possibly care more, and I am always ready to give any kind of help that they need. But it’s also true that they might need to remind me that they need that support.
I suppose the fact that I actually have friends means that there are people in this world who, if they don’t always understand me, or at least willing to put up with me. And for that I am deeply grateful. I suppose the true test of any friendship is the ability to accept people for who they truly are, flaws and all. And maybe it’s time I began to do that for myself as well.