The Fine Line Between Friendship & Cannibalism

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of dining with a friend of mine who I had not seen for a hot minute. As we sat enjoying some overly-priced tomato soup, our conversation turned to our respective plans for 2014: overseas trips, personal projects, and potential moves. Somewhere during the chat, we touched on our the duration of our friendship and how it has survived the test of time – largely in part due to our shared love of dark humor and a celebration of human wickedness that is more a parody of human failings than a serious love of evil.

During this segment of the conversation I offered to my friend a hypothetical gift I would grant to few others. “If we ever get trapped in an avalanche on a mountain together – and I die first – you have permission to eat my body if you need to survive.” However, I added a warning to this culinary invitation by telling him, “It will probably taste like disappointment and anger, just so you know.”

He offered a quick retort, “No worries, I have a recipe for a wonderful brown sugar scrub that would do wonders to balance your flavor.”

Somewhere in this macabre and disturbing exchange was an undeniable, universal truth: Only your closest friends possess the recipe to minimize your flaws and compliment your sourness.

"Saturno Devorando a su Hijo" by Francisco de Goya (1823)

“Saturno Devorando a su Hijo” by Francisco de Goya (1823)

No man is an island…a peninsula perhaps, but not an island.

This weekend I was reminded of how lucky I am to have the friends that I do.

First, the set up: I’m a bit of a sarcastic, melancholy chap. I don’t take kindly to very many people and I think my personality sometimes resembles the more unpleasant attributes of a cactus. I am often physically tired, and as such, my temper has all the fury of a hornets’ nest struck by a wandering baseball. I am particular about who I let in to my life and I am not quick to trust. These details form the outline of a person who sometimes isolates himself in order to avoid disappointment, and let’s face it, the human race often excels in this area.

However, there are those moments – though they may be few – where your hope in people is restored. Like finding a wedding ring you are certain was lost down a drain, the feeling of gratitude you experience is both powerful and reconstructive.

This past weekend, I was coming off of an exhausting work week. I was a little depressed about being single (par for the course), and when I attempted to cook some corn bread for a fundraiser. It went badly. The result? Yellow¬†cinder blocks. Instead of following my first reaction: “I am a failure. I quit.” I pressed myself out of that groove and into another: What is the immediate problem at hand? Cooking. Let’s break it down logically:

Do you cook/bake much?

No.

Well then, maybe you’re just inexperienced, which is different from just being a huge failure. Maybe you just need help.

So I phoned a friend who is an excellent cook, went to his house, and together we whipped up some deliciously moist corn bread. Actually, he did most the work. The exercise in asking for help was probably the hardest part of the entire process for me. However, I was also fortunate enough to have this cooking lesson turn into a wonderful evening of passion-fruit vodka martinis, a fantastic chicken dinner, and a thought-provoking political discourse with my friend’s husband. Although I did not fully understand immediately…getting out of my home, spending time with a good friend, interacting with people, and learning something new (how to bake corn bread properly)…left me on a great high note by the end of the weekend.

Now, I know this isn’t a story about someone donating a kidney to me, and people might say, “So you can’t cook corn bread. Big deal. Having your friend help you restores your faith in people?” but I often look for the simple obstacles and their solutions to solve larger ones. Bill Clinton taught me that. He once said that resolving the most complex issue starts with understanding the smallest part of it. I think he said it in that documentary about crossword puzzles. Anyway, it made a lot of sense and it stuck with me.

I think when people are depressed or feel like giving up on endeavors and get lost in that cloud of self-doubt, over-analysis and worry, they forget the first asset available to them: You are connected, by some means, to other people. I truly believe that whatever your tests in this life are…whether it is to become more patient, how to trust your instincts better, or pushing yourself to be more creative…you will not be doing it alone. Even if it feels like a solo flight, 9 times out of 10 it’s not. Collaboration is key. Find a harmonic that strengthens you.

If you don’t have awesome friends, get out there and make some. Keep digging through that pile of trash we call humanity until you find the diamonds. They ARE out there, and they’re worth trudging through the nasty smell to find.

If you have some already, get off your ass and call them. You might not realize it, but you probably have an army of optimism available to you 24/7 on speed-dial. Use it.