[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
My best friend/co-worker/roommate just told me she’s dropping everything and moving back to the other side of the country to take care of her sick mother. Now, while I think that’s admirable, it seriously impacts my rent and living situation, not to mention my work life, plus I’m basically losing my best friend. I obviously don’t want to tell her how to live, but the fact is, her mom was always really horrible to her and basically made her life a living hell. When I got her this job and she moved in with me, it was basically the first time she could really start pursuing her own dreams and building a life of her own. I honestly think her giving up everything and moving back home is a huge mistake. It will not only mess up everything she worked so hard for, but it won’t be fun for her to be there — just to help out an old woman who really doesn’t deserve her. My friend says she’s 100 percent going to do this and there’s nothing anyone can say to change her mind. What should I say?
Losing A Friend
Dear Losing A Friend,
You should say, “I’m so completely awestruck and moved by the selfless devotion you have for your mother that I’m going to do everything I possibly can to support you and be whatever you need me to be during this challenge. I am your friend and I love you.”
You see, you aren’t losing a friend, you’re gaining a hero, a role model, and a living example of inspiring spiritual integrity that should make you rethink your entire outlook on life and its priorities. Your friend is transcending you. You are witnessing a transformative experience, up close and personal. Your friend is rising up to another level of being — a level that is, unfortunately, too often unseen and unappreciated — it’s as if it’s too high and blinding to look at.
Your friend is beginning one of the most challenging and difficult ordeals in life: the process of truly abandoning selfishness and living a life of service. This is an initiation that can bring out the best and most noble aspects of a person’s character, or lead to resentment, bitterness, and total failure. Many people, when faced with the opportunity to serve someone besides themselves, retreat from the challenge because they don’t think they’re strong enough to do it. What they don’t realize is that the actual process of doing it is what builds that strength inside them. Going through it makes you a better person. You will rise to the occasion when you are called upon — you will become greater than yourself when you have a reason to be.
Your friend has been called upon and she is bravely answering that call. Celebrate her. Honor her. When someone is faced with a situation in which a person truly needs them, a different kind of force moves into action. Influences and powers far beyond the pressures of day-to-day living step in and lead the way — your friend is being directed into a different emotional realm that has very little resemblance to what you think of as “regular life.”
Despite all the great things your friend has already done, and despite all the great dreams she is pursuing for herself, it’s quite possible that her current choice to suddenly sacrifice her personal ambitions in order to help her mom will be the greatest and most important thing she’ll ever do.
This is not an easy idea to understand. More often, we see people being celebrated for the ways they ruthlessly pursued their own ambitions and goals, putting their interests above anyone else’s. We’ve been told that this is a successful person — the person who did it “their way” — the person who never let anyone or anything keep them from getting what they wanted. We think this kind of person must have a very developed and strong inner character — a great inner integrity — to give them the strength and pride to resist all the endless distractions and temptations asking for their attention, their time, their love.
We celebrate the individual who didn’t succumb to any other emergency beyond their own constant and desperate efforts to “win.” They avoided, thwarted, or ignored any circumstance or person that stood in the way of their getting and doing exactly as they pleased. But is this really the kind of person we need in the world?
We need the person who sacrifices their own desires for someone else without even being asked. We need the person who looks at life not as a great race to get ahead, but as a great opportunity to be useful to the world. We need the person who tirelessly thinks of what can be done to make someone else’s life a little bit easier, a little bit happier, a little bit less painful. We need the person who is stronger than their desires and ambitions, who is willing to see life for what it really is: an intense but beautiful chance to be.
The fact that your friend has so much going for her in her own life is exactly what makes her choice to give it up even more powerful. The fact that her mother was “horrible” to her, and didn’t “deserve” her help, is what makes her unflinching loyalty that much more admirable. Having so many reasons to say no is what makes your friend’s decision to say yes truly meaningful. This goes beyond logic and reason and what makes sense in the material world.
Your friend is entering a world of spirit you can only know from experience. It can be frightening to consider what the world looks like to your friend right now. It’s staggering to try to picture her view of a radically altered landscape as meaning and order reshuffles. Her strength, compassion, and extraordinarily deep appreciation of life goes even beyond our common understanding. It goes into a place that can only be described as love. Your friend is truly in love.
So I wish for you to open yourself and your heart to the extent that your friend has. I wish for what is happening inside her soul to also happen to you. If you can absorb even just 1 percent of her strength, her goodness, and her clarity, you will see what life is. Your friend is what life is. Her mom is what life is — this all is what life is — in all its inconvenient, frustrating, and confounding glory. Your friend is an angel, and you’re lucky to know her. Aspire to be more like her in every way you can.
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