So, I’m reading this book right now. It’s called A Little Life [affiliate] by Hanya Yanagihara. Ever since I saw it for the first time at the book store I felt drawn to it. I don’t know why. It’s really, really long. And as I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a very slow reader. So I try not to get drawn to books that are 720 pages. But here we are. One day I just couldn’t take it anymore and I drove to the store just to buy this book to read while I was at the laundromat. I’ve been reading it for hours at a time since Friday and I’m almost 1/4 of the way through.
So I’m going to write to you about how I’m feeling about this book knowing full well that my thoughts and feelings about certain characters absolutely will change as time goes on.
There’s this one character named Jude. And I hate that I relate to him more than anyone else. Or maybe everyone relates to him the most? I kind of doubt it but there’s a lot of him that echoes so much about how I feel a lot of the time. I really don’t like it, either, because Jude’s character is kind of the foil of his roommate, Willem. Willem is tall and blonde and beautiful and open and kind and generous. Jude is… a physical wreck. He’s an emotional brick wall. He’s filled with secrets and silence and nevertheless everyone loves him so much.
The thing about Jude is that he has a secret. I don’t know what it is yet. There have been allusions to what it might be but nevertheless, one of Jude’s most defining characteristics–at least at this point, is that he never divulges any personal information about himself. He doesn’t want anyone–not even his deepest most loving friends, to know what happened to him when he was a kid. He’s very aware of how much he takes from other people and is forever keeping track of what he owes to them. And he is forever in awe of the way that other people will hand over so much information about themselves so freely to one another.
Now, on the surface, there’s not a lot that Jude and I have in common. But the chapters that focus on him, for some reason, feel like they’re about me. I don’t know why I hold tightly to him except that we have similar defense mechanisms. Jude and I–we want to know our people intimately. We’re afraid to speak up. We’re afraid to ask about things we don’t know about. We both work so hard to appear to be fine that we miss out on true, full experiences.
There’s this one habit that I have–something leftover from childhood that still creeps up. No, it doesn’t creep up. It lives at the front of my mind and I have to actively battle it. Every day, when I remember to. It’s this part of me that is so afraid of getting things wrong or being seen as someone who doesn’t understand something. I’ve been doing this since I was a 5th grader in math class when my exasperated tutor would show me flash cards and I would roll my eyes and pretend like this particular math problem was too easy to even consider answering. I have never passed a math class on my own merit–even after I was in college and was trying my absolute best. I skated by on the kindness of befuddled teachers who couldn’t bear the thought of keeping me from graduation on account of the fact that I couldn’t grasp Algebra 1.
This hits me in relationships, too. I feel like there have been times where I’m just easing by on limited amount of information–forgetting how much people love to be asked about themselves. I do this thing where I assume that someone is going to give me as much information as they’re comfortable with and asking follow up questions is prying, nosy and insensitive. But that’s just not how it always goes. I feel like I’m too old to be learning basic aspects of friendship but here we are. I’m grateful to be learning them at some point.
Some of my closest friends are here because we’ve lived so much life together. But my newer friends, ones I’ve known for a year or two, it only hit me recently how little I know about them. I know how they see things politically. I know how they parent. I know that they are generous with their love and time. I know that we’re similar enough to get along and take care of one another and maybe I just figure that these friendships will live themselves into intimate knowledge of one another. And they will–of course they will. But the way I guard myself and expect others to want to do the same isn’t going to foster any sort of intimacy. I don’t want to be like Jude. I want to know and be known. I can’t wait to get back home and read more–I hope he gets to know this part of life.
So, I’m working hard at not letting fear get in the way of letting me life a full, intimate life. I’m divulging more information than I’m wont to do even though I feel so self conscious and self-absorbed when I feel like I’m talking too much. I’m asking people more about themselves. I am reminding myself that people want to know me as much as I want to know them. Digging deeper is okay–it’s important. It’s not an imposition–and if it is, my friend will tell me. Because friends.
This feels like basic stuff. Kind of embarrassing to even put out there. But these are the lessons I’m learning lately and if I’m living open and honest so that you can, too. It’s part of it.
What are you learning, lately?