Have you heard about the rule of circles? I Need to find out who thought of this and give them credit, so I will add that here if and when I can find it. But the theory is that when we have a change of path or a crisis, at the centre of the ordeal is the person most affected (or people but let’s stick to one person for a moment), and let’s say that that person is you. You have been hit by a bus and knocked down the mountain. You are battered, bruised and broken. You are going through some kind of crisis. It could be the loss of a loved one, a major physical change to your body or soul, it can truly be anything big.
Imagine a tight circle around just you. You are inside this circle and it is called the epicenter. You are the only one who is having the operation, moving overseas, has lost your job, or has lost your life partner.
Then imagine another circle around that. It is called circle one and inside that circle are your closest family and/or friends. There are less than a dozen people in this circle, and there may even only be one or two. It is the people that you speak to almost every day (or would if you could). They too are affected by this tragedy as they love you so much that this is hurting them deeply, they are aching for you and they are shattered and devastated. This is their news too. It is their trauma and tragedy too. Their son, daughter, mother, child, someone who means the world to them, is going through something huge. However, it is not happening to these people. They are not lying in that hospital bed and they have not received the tragic news about themselves.
Tightly around circle one is circle two. I am sure you are getting the picture here but before you skip ahead it is important to realize that these circles are actually many and they are tight. Those in circle two are also very close family and friends, but they are not in circle one, and they are not you. Your aunt and uncle adore you and you may see them every week, but they are not there every day. They too are shattered.
As you go out there are colleagues, friends and extended family. Many of these people may well be very close to you, they are not superficial in any way, but there are those who are in tight rings that are even closer to the epicenter; you.
This is the important part, and the basic rule that governs this system whether we like it or not is this:
“You cannot complain about the situation to a single person who is closer in the circle than you are! You may only complain outwards.”
Why? Because no matter how terrible this is for them, their fears, their grief, their loss, is not as great as yours or anyone closer in than them and it isn’t fair on you to add more to your load. You in the epicenter can complain about what you are going through to anyone, because they are all further out than you are. But if even your mother or friend who you speak to every single day starts complaining to you about how this is affecting them, then they will add to your burdens and worries. Yet if they turn to someone even a smidgen further outside the circle than they are, then they can dump all they like.
Two of my major health crises included desperate phone calls to the hospital where I was in critical care, where a close friend of mine (a different one each time) phoned me in tears to tell me that they were terrified that I would die and how awful their life would be if I didn’t come out of this alive. They sobbed and sobbed and desperately needed my love and support. In both cases I could barely breath and was suffocating under my own fear. I was not in a position to be helping anyone, let alone myself. It was highly inappropriate and selfish and each was a massive red flag as to how this was going to go afterwards. Both times I had to remove myself from the friendship because recovery was going to be long and slow and I needed all my energies to get better. I had nothing left to nurse them through their own fears for me.
Many years ago we lost a fellow parent in our preschool. It was a tough year as for one reason or another we lost three parents out of a class of only eighteen four year olds. It was heart breaking for everyone. I had spoken to the first lady who we lost many times, but she wasn’t my best friend. However she was very close to my best friend Janet and they were also neighbours. After diagnosis I never saw this lady again, but I spent many hours comforting Janet who was also a hairdresser. She worked out that she could help this dying lady by cooking meals and regularly doing this woman’s hair as it started to fall out and then grew back again. As treatment failed and we all knew it was going to come to an end, Janet would go in each day to cook a meal and to brush and wash this woman’s hair. She loved on her in so many ways it was incredible.
But Janet had three children of her own to care for and so when Janet was helping this lady, I would have Janet’s children over to y house to play. It was easy for me as I loved her children dearly but I still felt somewhat helpless until Janet reminded me that she couldn’t help her friend without me. On bad days Janet would come to pick her children up and cry for an hour before she took the kids home. Her job for her dying friend was to listen to her, cheer her up, love her, make her feel less rundown, listen to her heartache and put a meal on the table for her family.
Then she took that grief and heartache to me. It would not be fair on the dying friend for Janet to add to her burdens by telling her how had it was for her and how she felt awful every time she went into her house or that she had fears for her own life and children when this is so real and under her nose.
The reason that I am telling you this in the context of losing friends is that all relationships have their ups and downs and even the the very best of friendships are never equal all the time. There are seasons where I need to carry you and other seasons where you need to carry me. But when life changes so drastically that one of us changes paths permanently, the balance shifts. It is no longer give here and take there but it all ultimately coming out the wash equally in the end. That is no longer the basic premise underlying the friendship.
If I change paths I will no loner be there for you in the way that I used to. I may still see you at work every day but I no longer have the capacity to carry you through anything that you might be going through. I might still love you to the moon and back but if I am now living at the other end of the world or I have a new family to feed or the little energy that I have to spare goes on my spouse, children, one closest friend, or as often the case, to the appointments that I feel I spend my life going to. And that is going to hurt your feelings.
I get it, and makes me tremendously sad that you are going through that. But honestly, while I am going down my enforced or chosen path in a different direction, I simply can’t give you everything that I gave you before this happened.