Normally we have certain expectations from our friends, and if those are not met we reconsider the relationship and reach our own conclusions. Earlier this week I was discussing the issue of expectations with a friend and to illustrate a point I gave the example of a remarkable woman I once knew.
We met during the late 70s as graduate students at the University of Toronto Drama Center. She was involved in puppet theater and it became her chosen field of study. Like me she was a foreigner, but she was older than me, and already had a school-age daughter.
We became good friends, actually she impressed me so much that I even took a workshop in puppetry to get to know her world better. And she told me about her life, how, in the dark days of Communism, she escaped from Rumania on her own. She shared her experience at a refugee camp in Austria where she stayed for several months. Luckily her story had a happy ending, she was granted a political asylum in Sweden where she met her Canadian future husband and he brought her to Toronto.
I had never met such a strong and brave woman, I used to read about women like her in books.
In spite of our plans to stay in town, it transpired that the University of Toronto was not the best fit for my husband and I, and we had to move away. On our last night there we were invited to my friend’s home for dinner. We had a lovely time with her family and when we parted I expressed my wishes that we would keep in touch.
To my dismay my friend said no, that this was it: she explained that although she enjoyed being my friend, as a refugee who had left her family behind, she just never kept in touch. She added that it wasn't personal, those words stung, I was sad that she didn't make an exception in my case. Still I appreciated her honesty.
Although I listened to my friend's stories, obviously I never really understood what she has been through and was not aware of the implications of her past experience. How could I?
The impossibility of seeing the big picture was recently demonstrated in a scene from the excellent film Prisoners (2013). The film tells the story of the disappearance of two young girls and the enormous difficulties in locating them. At one point a suspect is held hostage by the fathers of the two girls. In order to get information out of that suspect one of the fathers psychically tortures him, but to no avail. What the fathers do not know is that the suspect fears something much greater than just physical pain, thus breaking down and talking is not considered an option for him.
This is an extreme example of a certain kind of blindness, but even in our daily life it is easy to forget that what we see is only partial, and that there is always so much more which we don't know.
Throughout the years I remembered my friend's courage and determination, but her refusal to keep me in her life was even more significant as it taught me an important lesson about my limitations and about humility.