Duran Price discusses the importance of investing in human relationships and why being present in our friends’ lives mean everything.
We need a witness to our lives.
~ Susan Sarandon
Some people have a knack for remembering dates such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and funerals. I am not one of them. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I’ve rarely attended such events and almost never remember these dates. I’ve always felt personally uncomfortable in these situations. But over the years, I’ve experienced a few things that have caused me to pivot on this point of view.
We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet; what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, “Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.” (Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance)
Few things are as gratifying as finding a perfect explanation of a powerful emotion that was previously difficult to put into words. When that magical moment happens, it makes you want to say “THIS!” The quote by Susan Sarandon regarding why relationships are so important perfectly captures and explains why.
I didn’t always get it, but I’ve come to understand why it is so important to take note of special events in our friends’ lives and celebrate it with them. It gives the moment significance. It says, “Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. It will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.” That’s why it is important to acknowledge and celebrate our friends’ birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations, bar mitzvahs, promotions, accomplishments, and everything in between.
I met Kess when I was four years old. He is my oldest friend in the world and occupies a place in my heart that is sacred. Kess was raised by his grandmother who we affectionately call “Rambo,” ‘nuff said. And his relationship with his mother Sandra matched the closeness of the relationship I have with my own mother. When Sandra passed away, he was devastated.
At Sandra’s funeral, everyone that was close to me attended. They knew how much my friendship with Kess meant to me and wanted to show their support, even though most of them had never met Sandra. I’m not a fan of funerals and I’ve skipped many of them in my life, even ones that I should have attended in retrospect. I didn’t think twice about attending Sandra’s funeral. She was a kind-hearted soul and was this other cool mom that I had. I had known her all my life, since I was four.
For years after Sandra’s funeral, Kess would miss her and mourn her. He was living in the U.S. and Sandra passed away in The Bahamas. I would go by the gravesite from time to time to make sure the caretakers were doing a good job, keeping flowers there and sending an occasional photo to Kess, which he seemed to really appreciate.
Many times he would call me in tears at strange hours of the morning. Telling me how much he missed his mom, and how much he appreciated that I attended the funeral. At first, I didn’t think much of it. After all, he was my brother and she was like a mother to me. Of course I would go. Then, on some of the calls. he would express his painful disappointment that some people he considered friends did not attend. You could tell it was far more pain than it was anger or disappointment. It was then that I realized that my justifications for not attending other people’s special moments were not justified at all.
I used to think, “Hey, I really didn’t know your cousin like that” or “I’m not going to enjoy this birthday party because I don’t know anyone there I can talk to or relate to, so why should I go?” Kess made me realize two important things. Firstly, it was not about me! Those events didn’t exist for my pleasure or enjoyment. They weren’t there so I could rate them out of five stars on how beneficial they were to me. It had nothing to do with me. It was about my friends. They needed me at this time. They would really appreciate if I could be there.
Secondly, our friends need us to notice and bear witness to their lives so they know that in a world of more than seven billion people, their lives actually matter to someone, someone that matters to them. That’s our role as friends, to show that their lives matter. However insignificant their promotion, graduation, birthday, funeral is to other people, they need to know that it matters to us. Through this act of kindness and love we show them they are not alone in the universe.
Many years later I attended the funeral for the mother of another close friend. His mom was easily one of the most delightful persons I have ever met. Any time I think about her, I immediately see the big yellow sun smiling on a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. She just represented a giddy joy and kindness of spirit to me. So I could only imagine what she meant to him. To say they were close is like saying conjoined twins are sort of connected. When she died, he cried, and so did I.
At her funeral, it struck me that even though she had a strong representation from all the people that she knew, I didn’t notice any of his friends, particularly those that he and I had in common. I remember him walking up to me at the funeral, heart heavy, he looked me in the eye and said, “Thanks for coming, man, I really appreciate this.”
Even though he spoke those words with his lips, I could tell they originated from a deeper place. It’s a feeling I’ll always remember. He was going through tremendous emotions of loss and grief and I was there to support him. I wanted to let him know that her life and what she meant to him will not go unnoticed. I was there to bear witness as his friend and help to mark and solidify the importance of this moment in his life. That’s what friends do. That’s why we are here. That’s why it matters.
I’ve only had two birthday parties. Once when I was eight years old, my mom had a birthday party for me at McDonalds. I still remember the striped Le Tigre shirt I had on and the Gold Digger blue jeans with zipper pockets. All of my friends were there. It was awesome. I still have the photos. The whole world stopped that day to recognize my existence and it made me feel special.
As someone that never felt comfortable in social circles, I remember opting not to go to many weddings, funerals and birthdays. So it was surprising to me that some twenty-five years later I decided to have another party. It was the first time I invited friends to an event that I was hosting and I was really afraid that no one would show. Perhaps it would be some sort of payback for all of the times I missed in the lives of others that I cared about. What happened was absolutely incredible and unforgettable. Practically all of my friends showed up. It was an incredible moment to see so many people take time out of their busy lives to pause and mark this day with me and celebrate in my honor. I felt privileged and it has changed how I view my role in my friend’s lives.
Do you know why men build monuments? We build monuments to honor those people and events that have had a profound affect on us. We build them so we never forget. We construct them so that we can revisit them and relive those moments and mark them in the annals of time. As a kid I remember a poem on my grandmother’s wall that said “God gave us memories so we could have roses in December.” I didn’t understand what the poet meant at the time. But later I came to understand that our memories let us relive great experiences after the moment has passed, even when those we care about are not with us.
When we join with our friends to celebrate their triumphs or walk beside them during their trials, we build a memorial with them to mark the event and make it special, to make it matter. We honor them. For all the weddings I’ve subsequently attended, all of the baby christenings, birthday parties, funerals, dinner invites, graduations and anything that those we love hold dear, I now realize the reason I do this. I also have a new appreciation for any time my friends pause their lives to help me celebrate mine.
We don’t have forever, we only have right now. It’s easy to get lost as one person in a planet of billions. The feeling of insignificance, of being just a number, just a statistic, that you matter to no one, is incredible, overwhelming and sad. Take the time to show those you love that what’s most important is not that they matter to the whole world. What’s most important is that they matter to you. Their lives will not go unnoticed because you will be their witness.
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