When I was young boy, maybe 7 or 8, I remember sitting at the head of my kitchen table after I got into an argument with my friends. I have absolutely no recollection of the argument itself, but it was bad enough that I thought I had lost my friends for good. It was a terrible feeling, one I would eventually get used to, and one I think most of us want to avoid.
I remember not knowing what to do with myself. I felt like I wanted to cry or scream or hit something but did not seem able to do any of it. I was thirsty and I got a bottle of coke and a glass to pour it into. I actually remember a sense of relief, like this small task would be something I could do so I would not have to think about the pain I was in or what to do next.
I tipped over the bottle which may have looked to be half the size of me and poured the glass as my sister, who was often a substitute for a mother, came into the kitchen. As she walked to the fridge she must have noticed something was wrong and asked me about it. I told her that I was fighting with my friends and she said something I’ll never forget, “It’s okay, you’ll make new friends, you’ll forget all about these ones.” I might still be foolish, I’m sure many would agree, but I think I knew better than her when tears poured down my face and I declared, “I don’t want to forget!” Now, I did not mean that I wanted to remember this lesson or seek revenge; I meant that those other little boys were my brothers and I could not stand to pretend otherwise. I did not want to act as if they did not matter because they did; they meant the world to me and I could not bring myself to rewrite the narrative of my short life so that these friends I thought I had lost would mean nothing. I loved them and would die for them. They were my brothers.
I’m happy to let you know that I think I played hockey with them later that evening, but if not, surely the day after. Unfortunately, we eventually got to high school and went our separate ways for different reasons. Most of them came from good homes, I did not; my parents were divorced and I essentially lived in a mad house with little to no supervision. I was so screwed up; I really did not know until my late 20s that it was supposed to be different. That’s not the reason I’m writing, but it is important because I want to leave it up to you to decide whether my belief system has more to do with mental illness rather than wisdom or insight.
“I don’t want to forget,” as the tears erupted out of me. I think it was truly something beautiful and profound. What would it have meant to have forgotten? My sister was correct, we know that, right? I would have found new friends and moved on. I did later in life and I, like I’m sure you have as well, did move on from many friends and acquaintances as I got older. It got easier and easier and by the time I was an adult, I don’t think I ever worried about losing a friend, certainly not the way I did that day. I guess I could have saved myself the grief and learned it sooner but what is the cost of learning such lessons? I propose that such lessons come at a great cost.
A few months ago, almost a year now, my girlfriend broke up with me. There were some things she did after the fact that really hurt me and I think are unforgivable but I would not have moved on quickly regardless; I never do. She was younger than me, my first such relationship, but in many ways, when it comes to love, I was far more immature. But I’m glad of it! I don’t want to forget! I don’t want to create a new narrative that dismisses love as trivial or minimizes how much I loved her. Love is not trivial, I did truly love her and it hurt. And yet I think the more mature response is to just say there are other fish in the sea and ignore all of those things that once meant so much to me. What is the cost?
When I love someone, I love them like I was 15; they mean the WORLD to me. I love them with every inch of being and they are never far from my thoughts. When you love that way the loss is devastating. But the devastation is worth it; you are rewarded for your suffering.
I see the suffering as a way of paying a debt to the idea of love itself, or in the case of when I was a child, the idea of friendship and fraternity. It’s well understood that those who sacrifice most in the relationship (any relationship) are far more committed to the relationship. That sounds obvious but think about it for a second. Those who give the most are more committed than those who stand to receive the most from a relationship. It’s about investment. You don’t want to see that which you’ve invested so much in, go bad, where as one who has invested so little and reaped so much, can easily walk away. A parent that has given so much to their children will always continue to do so no matter what those children grow up to be. It is only the parents that gave almost nothing that are able to walk away. And so my suffering is paying that investment to my relationship with idea of love. I could trivialize it and move on quicker but then I’d never love the same way again.
There is a cost to functioning in a neoliberal society, a cost to doing what is easiest; the loss of what is important. I see in many of my cohorts a cynicism about love, friendship and justice. That cynicism is born out of moments in their lives where circumstances failed to live up the ideal. Rather than mourn the loss, people move on from the ideal itself until it has no more value in their lives. That is why I passionately and recklessly suffer for love and justice because when the suffering ends, I still get to have those things in my life, not in moderate amounts, but fully. I don’t want to live in a world without love and justice, and I would rather die suffering for them, as if to reinforce them, than to let them go simply because it’s easier to live in a sad, dark world.
I don’t want to forget! Because when we forget what pain the ideals and principles that mean so much to us, and make our lives worth living, we begin to lose the ideals themselves. Love and justice are but two ideals worth suffering for, worth cultivating in the emptiness of our abyss, and something we must remember together.