February 2016 Blog Challenge: Blog 17 of 29
Today I am returning to the Peachey Letters format, where I contemplate the people and phenomena that shape my world. In doing so I analyse, understand and work through all of life’s undulations. This post then, has come about as I see a loved friend going through a prolonged period of mental anguish…
Love Letter to The Stranger
I remember the time when my mother was admitted to hospital, due to a long drawn out episode of psychosis. She woke up one morning, having packed her psychological bags and had gone away with the (most peculiar troop of) fairies.
So, my brother bitterly said at the time – the mother we knew – had, for all intents and purposes died; although she lived and raved right there, in front of our very eyes.
Actually she came back from that trip away with the fairies, but she never was quite the same, ever again…
And now I see someone else that I love going through some very strange life machinations and as I try to make sense of it all, in to my mind comes a Billy Joel song that I love, called ‘The Stranger’…
It starts with a sublime (lounge bar) piano solo, and when it has pulled you in and lulled you with its’ lilting melody, is gently joined by a whistling accompaniment – simultaneously harmonising with and piercing through the smoothness; then it changes abruptly into a scrumptiously sleazy electric guitar riff. Next, the words kick in: “Well we all have a face that we hide away for ever, and we take it out and show ourselves when no one is around. Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk and some are leather, they’re the faces of the stranger and we love to try them on…”
I’m minded of this song as I contemplate how the personalities of those we (think we) know and love can alter so radically…
How does this work? Well think of a lover, that special someone you shared all that laughter and passion with in the past. Then time passes and now, in the present they have become unrecognisable. They have the same face, and the same voice, but have transformed into a doppelganger of that loving person who was with you once. Now they are against you. That happy shared past you had together, has passed in to an altered, argumentative present.
Or have you seen someone strong you once knew, go through an illness (physical or mental) and change? You witness them over time, gradually or suddenly metamorphosing from past to present. Where once they were defined by their boundless characteristics; they are now dragged down by their suffering.
They were the person you knew and loved. But here in the present they are The Stranger.
These transformations often make no sense to us emotionally… We are devastated by the change because we remember what that person was like and how being with them, felt. We had a pattern of togetherness and when that gets interrupted, our internal sense of rightness gets tilted mercilessly.
All sorts of emotions filter can through our consciousness as a result of such wanton changes – unease, betrayal, loss, grief, anger and helplessness to name but a few. Or sometimes The Stranger appears after a long, slow decline, creeping onwards until gradually we realise they are in the room with us.
If we lived in the psychological past, maybe such transformations wouldn’t happen. If we stayed in that time where things or people were wonderfully or ordinarily in step, they wouldn’t change and we wouldn’t suffer the consequences. We’d still be stepping along rhythmically, whereas now we are running to keep up or waiting for someone else to catch up. And we realise, that actually we have become the The Stranger too.
All this bubbles up into my mind right now because I’ve just spent the day with someone I’ve known for most of my longish life. This is a friend who has been through a number of mental traumas, and a number of revelations, that frankly would have tested many to the limits. In the past 18 months she has gone through an almost 360 degree revolution in her perception of herself and her life. She has had to reassess relationships and face challenges. Now her psyche has had enough. Her brain has flipped and her emotions imploded, along with her sense of self and sanity shifting cataclysmically.
It has been tough to witness someone I have known for so long change so much and suffer so deeply. And neither do I forget all the others who have been touched by the same traumas and changes too.
These things start off a chain reaction of events and consequences beyond one person, just as they ignite a complicated, inter-related set of contemplations and emotions in everyone. I cannot speak for anyone else, but for me, the history my friend and I have is significant, and it binds us together. It keeps us together, through thick and through thin, because relationships are not just about a golden past, they are about a continuing present, which sometimes is ugly. This is one of those times when I choose to walk with the ugliness and ensuing heaviness, because even The Stranger cannot obscure the face of the person I love so much.
And this isn’t some holy than thou smug declaration of saintliness. I know I have lost friends when I have been through traumas which they haven’t seen through and have seen instead the face of The Stranger. Much as that has hurt, I try hard not to judge, as I also acknowledge that I have let go of people in my life too, for many sensible and unfathomable reasons.
But in the case of my friend, how wonderful it is that I can live in the past and remember who she was, which is also, by the way, who she still is, despite her suffering and strange behaviours.
So, as I stare at The Stranger who was my beloved friend, I hold the memory of our kinship in my heart. I count my blessings, as she feels cursed, because I am one of those who supports her. I feel I am helping in some small way because I know I bring her a little comfort and not least some distraction from her despair.
As a coach I’m keen to intervene, as supporting others is my own selfish satisfaction. But this isn’t my role in this. She hasn’t signed up as a client. My role is just to be there for her.
When I went to see her today, she was having a bad day. She reached out to me and cried in my arms, apologising for her senseless (and highly medicated) state. I told her not to worry about that. When it came to our being together, all she had to be to me was a friend and that, in that moment, meant doing absolutely nothing. I supported her in a myriad of small and stupendous ways today, borne of what I know of her, and what I know of me. Those tiny acts may mean everything and yet I know that they could all change nothing. But it is just important that I be there and do that right now, when I can – for myself as much as for her.
I have to be strong and take care of myself too, otherwise I would be of absolutely no use to either of us or anyone else in my circle of life.
Even The Stranger hasn’t stopped me loving her. Who knows, maybe sharing a room with ‘The Stranger’ will mean that I get to love her even more.
People we know and love, change. Sometimes we accept those changes. Sometimes we are the ones who change and we either move on together in life or go our separate ways.
Change, more often than not is tough and scary. If we are to survive it and see past The Stranger in others and ourselves, then we have to acknowledge it as being as natural as the passing of time. The acceptance of this means that instead of fighting it, we can put our energies in how best to manage it. Every situation will have its own solution, so my one simple strategy is to work it out, just one step at a time.
One of the gifts I bring to life’s party is that I have the ability to deconstruct a situation, plan or project and build it back up into what and where it needs to be. This process works for me in so many situations in life. For my clients and those like my friend who feel that the weight of this can be overwhelming, we break things down into small steps and then take those steps, just one at a time.
And in reality, what we ever do is only ever one step at a time; it’s just that the pace of those steps slows and quickens according to energy, emotion and circumstance.
So with The Stranger or with a friend, we can always walk forward, whoever we are with.
And since I started with the Billy Joel song called The Stranger, it also seems a good place to end:
“You may never understand how the stranger is inspired
But he isn’t always evil and he isn’t always wrong.
Though you drown in good intentions, you will never quench the fire.
You’ll give in to your desire when the stranger comes along.”
~ Billy Joel, The Stranger. From the Album of the same name.
Yours, sort of sincerely…
Coach, Author and Sometime Stranger
PS: “Just to let you know that your book has arrived… As a take on Tom Cruise in Jerry Mcquire – ‘you had me at page 1’. Well done. You are an amazing writer, this book should be a film and I have only read 2 letters” ~ Beverley Jones
A collection of the ‘Peachey Letters’ from this blog have been gathered together – along with new material, into a beautiful book. It makes the perfect present, for you and for your loved ones … You can buy Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life on my website here or from Amazon (in Paperback and Kindle), order it at any bookshop, or indeed buy it from all good book websites around the world…
PPS: Here is the song – to either remind you or introduce you, click here for a YouTube video, with lyrics…