Ramadan Day 21 – The Loyalist

(reposted from 7/9)

For the last three years, I’ve written as often as I could during Ramadan. This is partially because when I was fasting, without writing, I often moaned to people that it was too difficult to write during Ramadan. I actually have an easier time working in a bustling environment and fasting than doing any sort of reading/reflective work. So, during Ramadan, I keep this journal.  I write instead of complaining about not writing.

Yesterday, I went to write my blog post at a coffee shop (I tagged along with Penny and borrowed her empty coffee cup so I could sit in the a/c). I was also wrapping up some work-work, all on the computer. I sat and barely moved for three plus continuous hours.

What I didn’t take into account was how fatigued I was from fasting. Usually, I’m all restless legs, frenetic motion, type hyper. But Ramadan causes me to stay as still as possible, to conserve energy. As a result, when I tried to get up, a pain shot through my lower back. I’d severely strained it. Today, I’m on painkillers and water, trying to honor the fast with my intentions, even though I’m not technically fasting.

The irony that I was just blogging about when one “should” or “should not” fast wasn’t lost on me.

Maybe this year’s fast isn’t quite the beast I’ve made it out to be. Thought I was actually pretty depressed last night about having to stop  today. But, I’m ok that I did make a commitment to fast today, but modify it. So I’m drinking and eating simply during the day, etc. I don’t think this is exactly fasting, but it’s not taking me too far away from Ramadan, which is important. That’s also why I’m writing anyway.

Unintended consequences fascinate me.

I planned out today’s post yesterday. I wanted to continue a series about Ramadan Muslims. I wanted to talk about punishing people who’ve wronged me, how forgiving myself is always harder than forgiving others. But then I got to thinking.

What about when I can’t forgive somebody at all?

A couple years ago, I had a friend, Dominique, whose friend Doppler, started dating my ex. The specifics don’t matter (there was a gruesome walk-in scene in a dark office), but it was all secrets and lies for a while. Then all the secrets came out, and Dominique said that it wasn’t their place to tell me. It was a social earthquake, not because of the ex or Doppler, but because Dominique didn’t tell me about it. I felt that she should’ve. Accusations, reasons and excuses (both ways), and then a treaty was put into place.

I used to get kind of scared about that situation. I didn’t know where all the fissures were. I forgave Dominique because she didn’t do anything wrong, but the hard part is that I never stopped feeling like it shouldn’t have happened. So I guess I was forgiving her for an association that wasn’t entirely under her control.  There are choices we make that are hurtful, not because they’re right or wrong.

Dominique remains friends with my ex and Doppler, although Dominique has never forgotten the terrible position she was put in by Doppler and my ex. Dominique remains one of my dearest friends. Every now and then, we are, the two of us, confronted by the past. We have different ways of handling it, but we do talk about our problems. The single thing that probably saved our friendship is that we continued to communicate through the difficulty.

We could’ve walked away, each from the other, or pretended it never happened, but instead we processed.

A couple years ago, I wrote that about the self-help guru Brené Brown. She’s written that the most hurtful thing we can do to one another is to ignore each other. It’s like a version of the silent treatment, except you cut the person off. When you do that it’s like affirming that they have no worth to you, not even the worth of disagreement. People feel that most deeply.

Now, raise your hand if you’ve been in this situation.

We’ve all been in it.

Here’s another question: what’s loyalty?

Where there’s loyalty, there’s some human drama. That’s for sure. Loyalty is usually code for shit going down. Not the good shit, but life shit. Nobody invokes the code of loyalty when everything is peaceful and awesome.

Loyalty is about taking sides. Loyalty is about when adversity happens to those you love, and you have to make hard decisions.  You don’t get to choose what kind of adversity. Maybe a friend’s reputation, losing a job, making a poor decision, maybe a friend’s health isn’t good, maybe the person is depressed, maybe they did something bad – but these are all situations where your loyalty is tested. How you gonna’ be there?

My friend Ra’d got into a scuffle, of sorts, with my friend Mario. No bad intent or lies, no tragedy – more of a personality conflict with community consequences for Mario. About a year later, and Ra’d and I met. Over time, we became friends, but I never forgot their earlier conflict. Eventually, Ra’d and Mario became friends. A happy ending?

Over dinner a while back, Ra’d said to me – you’re not very loyal, are you? I mean, you became friends with me despite what I did to Mario.

As adults, nobody has the right to tell us who to become friends with. But fairness is out of the question for love, and rights are out of the question for friends.

We want what we want. We feel what we feel, and telling folks that they can’t feel a certain way is no good. By that same token, I’m sure it wasn’t particularly pleasant for Mario, at least initially. While I was becoming friends with Ra’d, I had a goal – I wanted Mario and Ra’D to reconcile. Truthfully, I wanted them to reconcile because I felt that their troubles had caused a rift in a community that mattered to Mario.

In my early 20’s, I had this friend, let’s call him Curious. Curious was the ultimate in my Fast-Times-at-Ridgemont-High friendships. We were beyond beyond in terms of pack behavior.

Let’s just say that pursuant to the script, Curious and I acted out a gay break-up scene with me storming off and vowing never to speak to him again for how he’d wronged me. Curious had sold me down the river to his friend Cree-the-Queen-Bee for twenty pieces of silver and a chance to woo Darth Vader (he of the recent plastic surgery that made his voice sound exactly like the man in the mask, a shoe salesman at Macy’s). I’m not bitter, really, but the situation makes me laugh.

I disavowed Curious and having hit rock bottom – I subsequently studied for the LSAT and then went to law school.  Curious tried for years to get me to talk to him.  He even made me a mixtape and wrote me letters apologizing.  He was a friend when I was most alone.  I can’t say how many hours he listened to me talk about my pain for coming out, how he was there for me when I had no other friends in D.C.  How he helped me through heartache when my dad was sick.  But I never did talk to Curious again.  I couldn’t forgive. Years later, Corki told me she’d had dinner with Curious and that he was still really hurt by me never talking to him.

Even then, I was unrepentant.  That’s his problem, I said — he shouldn’t have done what he did.  He deserved for me never to speak to him again.

What doesn’t make me laugh is what Corki told me once, maybe years later, about loyalty. “You know, I think loyalty isn’t just about picking sides. It’s about staying in your friendships and accepting people who they are, even when and after they make mistakes.”

When I think about how hard it is to accept the people in our lives for who they are, I think of Corki. I feel like, in many ways, I lionize Corki because they were so wise, early on.

Remaining friends with Dominique, with Ra’d, with anybody who does something you find it hard to forgive, is the real testament to loyalty. It’s not actually about choosing sides, or drama. It’s not even about pretending the shit isn’t messed up.

It’s about staying when you can. There will be plenty of times you cannot because the friendship itself has become toxic. And definitely, you’ll probably have to take space.

But loyalty is about those moments that come, years later, when they need you to bring them soup or because they’ve had a terrible day and they need a chat or when they get the award for doing some real good in the world.   Or, nobody else will take a walk with you.

It’s about faith – whether you believe that someday will come.

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