I’m reminded that this is a time to practice aggressive friendship with each other, to be the one who seeks out the lonely and the troubled. It’s also true that character is formed in times like this. People see deeper into themselves, bravely learn what their pain is teaching them, and become wiser and softer as a result. David Brooks, NY Times
Last week, David Brooks, columnist at the New York Times, asked readers to e-mail him with thoughts, feelings and personal experiences of being in Lockdown (or whatever it is called in your country). This morning, he wrote us all a letter saying he’d received 5000 responses and he quoted a number of them. Students and the elderly, for different reasons, were scared and in tears much of the time. Reading his letter, I once again felt a deep sense of gratitude that, except for a few moments last week, I have been quite upbeat. I believe I’m being realistic and planning my days and weeks with reality in mind. I don’t like it but nobody asked my opinion. As the above quote shows, Mr. Brooks is encouraging us to reach out to people–especially the elderly and lonely people.
Since most of us are only communicating through e-mails, phone calls and Zoom meetings, a lot can be misunderstood and cause grief, unneeded despair and a pulling apart of friendship just when we need to pull together. I’ve been quick to judge others when I didn’t like a communication. Then it occurred to me, what if I were upsetting someone else? How would I want them to treat me? I’d want them to put my e-mail or Zoom statement in perspective. I’d want them to extend to me the benefit of the doubt, that in these extraordinary times, many of us may say things in haste that actually don’t express how we feel. I know a lot of my friends are very anxious, their children aren’t near them and they feel powerless. Many are scared–that looking into the future seems bleak and unpredictable. I have sent e-mails off to close friends and family and not heard back. First I got angry, then I felt scared. It turns out that 100% of those e-mails were either not received or lost in an onslaught of e-mails. I want to be forgiven for anything I said or did, unintentially or even intentially but blindly. If I want that, I’d better extend that to others. I find this hard.
As the days have turned into weeks and the weeks are slowly turning into a second month of lockdown, I’m feeling the fatigue of this sameness. I look out my window where it is 75o in Paris. It is green and the birds are chirping away as if all was normal. I may not have the largest following with this blog but I must have the best of followers! Many people wrote me last week in concern. Was I okay? Why was I crying? A number urged me to go outside and walk where it is green. I did. I went out three times and found it to be more stressful than staying inside. I live near Bois de Boulogne. Last Sunday, I walked in that direction only to be stopped by a line of police saying it was forbidden to enter. Only the small green areas are ok. Monday, I went to a real grocery store for the first time. The streets were full of people, many not respecting the 2 meter distance guideline, joggers were everywhere, families were everywhere. I had to remind myself we were in lockdown. I kept crossing the street, back and forth, back and forth, so as not to cross the 2 meter line. Tuesday night, French administration banned jogging between the hours of 10am and 7pm. I haven’t been out since then to see if joggers are respecting this latest decree.
I feel thin-skinned. I can’t control what other people think of me. I can’t control the Parisians who believe they don’t need to follow the rules. I can’t control people on Zoom who, no matter how much you remind them to put as much security in place as possible, aren’t listening. No matter how thin-skinned I’m feeling, I have to remind myself that no one means hurt or harm. I’m quite sure of that (with the exception of some politicians we all know and don’t love). I can’t afford to let myself get stressed by what others are doing. The CDC says that stress lowers your immune system. I have to practice love and forgiveness. That’s what I want from others.
This brings me back around to “Aggressive Friendship”. We live in an age where one can instantly ‘friend’ someone. It is even a verb: ‘to friend’. David Brooks urges us to reach out to the lonely, the elderly, those that cannot do much to fend for themselves during Covid-19. The dictionary on my MacBook Air defines friendship: “noun [mass noun] the emotions or conduct of friends; the state of being friends: old ties of love and friendship | this is an ideal group for finding support and friendship. • [count noun] a relationship between friends: she formed close friendships with women. • a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations: because of the friendship between our countries, we had a very frank exchange | the foreign ministers extended to eastern Europe the hand of friendship.” A state of mutual trust and support. Almost by definition, this says that friendship is deepened by surviving the big and small bumps on the road of life. Mr. Brooks is asking us to extend the act of caring–doing something for someone whether you know them or not, just because. Isn’t it extraordinary that it takes a crisis for the majority of us to practice this basic act of kindness? This is a time to practice love and tolerance. To remember the old adage that we were all taught when we were young: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Never easy in normal times, but these are not normal times.
In the news: The French news says that President Macron is speaking to many of his advisors and will go on TV Monday evening to make new announcements. The lockdown has been extended but it’s unclear how long. Deaths have reached 13,482 in France. The number of ICU patients has declined as of yesterday. I don’t believe France has peaked yet. “Macron will have to steer a careful course amid the tentative signs of improvement, telling people they must still stay at home while giving indications about how the confinement may be relaxed.” France24.com. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s illness has brought much of the nation together wishing him well. That nation has been pulled into polarity for at least 5 years. How interesting that one of the main people fighting for Brexit should also be a unifying figure. He says he owes his life to the healthcare workers. I wonder if this will soften some of his more stringent beliefs. One also can’t help but wonder if he noticed how many of his saviors were immigrants.
Sara This has been a very hard blog to write. For whatever reasons, I’ve lost paragraphs, been unable to upload a photo. and a few other things. For 48 hours it has been a test of patience to get this out to you. Makes me wonder what acts of maturity I’ve been needing to work on!
6 thoughts on “Aggressive Friendship”
Dear Sara, I cannot help but comment on your remarks re B Johnson. He is a member of the British land owning aristocracy who feel they have a right to govern. The Tory government have spent the last 10 years starving the National Health Service of funds. It is too much to expect an epiphany from him. The NHS was founded after World War 2 when the UK was bankrupt and massively in debt, as was the welfare state. Today the UK is a rich country which can spend billions on nuclear arms but cannot properly fund the NHS. Have you noticed how many of the NHS staff who have recently died have ‘foreign’ soundind names? Have you noticed that the majority of the essential services are the lowest paid? Have you noticed how in times of hardship large capitalist companies require government handouts? In the national interest of course!
Sara, I enjoy your blog. Thank you.
Thank you for posting these delightful Spring photos. You are right that Mother Nature did not get the memo, thank goodness. It is Easter Sunday here and we are taking a hike by the bay. Happy Easter.
So interesting – it seems that most of my emails, messages, texts this past week have been misconstrued, misunderstood, interpreted differently from my intentions, created confusion, or hurt, or displeasure. What’s going on ? Is it me and my words and my lack of clarity, or lack of empathy, or lack of humour? Am I communicating fear, criticism, judgmental responses, reactivity, resistance ? I honestly don’t know. I thought I was being careful and articulate and skillful. NOT SO! I am puzzled and pondering.
However, I find your posts consistently clear and authentic and thoughtful and never hostile or critical. I agree that we have to reach out to people – to everyone – I believe we must reach out all of the time. This gets me into trouble because there are some who do not particularly care to be reached out to by me (is that even English?). I need to learn to respect others’ space. It appears that I’m not so good at that and it ruffles feathers. Work in progress.
I’m happy to hear that you remain so positive and are successfully surfing the moments of turbulence.
Take care dear Sara,
Aggressive Friendship — that is a lovely way of putting it. Bravo to David Brooks and to Sara Somers for musing on that topic.
And Sally, thanks so much for giving us a glimpse not only of your life but of life in Paris. I especially love remembering the beautiful Jardin du Ranelagh! You’re right — it IS gorgeous. And yes, I bet the gardeners are out there — but probably at a safe distance from one another!
Sending hugs hugs hugs to you. Keep on keeping on!
I enjoy reading your updates. Love the Spring pics. It is interesting reading about life in France.
With 158 countries fighting this deadly virus, I believe we have grown closer to each other, regardless of origin.
Life in the USA is the same, with only grocery stores and pharmacies open for necessities.
Thank you Sara for capturing your experience of these strange times. Finally, the spring is springing here in California too. Still, quiet and beautiful outside. And we’re all getting an opportunity to look deeper into ourselves. Be safe and well.