20×2 – Where Were You Then?

The following was written and performed for 20×2 during SxSW Interactive 2016. I like how it turned out, and as far as posting written things it’s as good a place to start as any:

I used to have trouble with condolences. When friends suffered from a loss, I’d find myself at a loss for words. Anything I could think to say felt insincere. The standard, “You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers,” is hollow, because… well I’m not known to be a spiritual person, so my friends could justifiably come back with, “What prayers?”

And in our fast paced, ADHD world, “You’ll be in my thoughts” is barely thoughtful. “Yes, you’ll be in my thoughts, all throughout the 6 seconds I type this frown-y face, and then I’ll check facebook… and what were we talking about?”

The WORST thing I could imagine doing, and I’ve witnessed this happen quite often, is to stumble down a staircase of dark thoughts (possibly from the sudden examination of one’s own personal mortality) in an effort to relate to someone whose going through tragedy. Nothing is more offensive to me than someone having an existential crisis around someone whose having a REAL crisis.

So my solution for the longest time was avoidance. To just stay away so I didn’t accidentally add to a friend’s burden. Give that person space to grieve, and not put them in a situation where they have to find the energy to comfort me.

It was a terrible solution, cause as you can imagine, it makes you look like a terrible friend. Having to explain to someone you claim to love, who rightly demands to know, “where were you then?” that you were absent on purpose is a ridiculous argument. “Don’t you see, I wasn’t there FOR you.” It’s impossible to sell.

Then I went through some tragedies of my own… After a couple weeks of trying to comfort everyone else, I turned to my own feelings, and for a while was a real asshole. When I came out the other side I realised the people who ran through that gauntlet with me, the ones who were there and put up with it, they’re my closest friends.

Sometimes that’s what true friendship is: someone who will put up with you when you need to be a dick.

So now, if I have a friend going through something, I send them a message, “Hey, if you need someone to be shitty around, I’m available.” And if someone asks me “where were you then?” I calmly reply, “letting you be an asshole.”