By Laura Garren
The Talmud says we see things not as they are, but as we are. This concept is an important reminder that each person has his or her own perspective, and two people might have a different perspective about the same event, interaction, or idea. I recently have seen this difference in action and have had to struggle to let the other person, my friend Hughie, have his perspective and to respect it, even though mine is much different.
Our mutual friend died recently, and I felt certain under the circumstances and from the way they played out that he wanted to die. My friend, Hughie, insists that he did not, and that he should have been treated more aggressively while in the hospital, even though he was so weak and ravaged by opportunistic infection that he was not able to receive the meds to combat his illness.
Someone’s perception is distorted, and of course I’m sure it’s not mine (I assert facetiously). But I must face the fact that it might be. However, our friend hid his illness, not telling anyone about it, even Hughie, who lived with him. He actively isolated himself and pushed people, including his family, away. My view is that he knew what the future held for him with this illness, and he did not want to live with it.
Hughie ignores all that information and rejects my supposition. He maintains that had our friend received the meds, he would have recovered. He also points out that he lived with our friend and therefore knew him better than I, who also was very close to him. But then, Hughie neglects to consider that he himself might be in denial. And there’s the fact that our friend took one round of meds a few months prior to his hospitalization, had a bad reaction, and then stopped treatment. Of course, our friend might also have been in denial, which undermines my perspective that he wanted to die.
So how does the Talmud’s quote apply? “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” Hughie, whom I’ve known for more than 40 years, is the kind of person who looks backward a lot, saying, “If only,” and “I wish I had,” about things that he can’t change. He thinks the family should have insisted our friend be treated for the illness, even though doctors recommended against it when he was in the hospital, saying he would not have survived it in his condition. “Why didn’t they…?” he asks me, and I have no good answer.
Maybe his perspective alleviates whatever guilt or responsibility he feels, so that he can believe our friend’s death was in no way his fault. In an emotional moment during the crisis, he cried, “It’s my fault,” and “If I hadn’t…. he wouldn’t be dead.” Of course, he’s wrong; he is assuming way too much responsibility our friend, who had a very strong personality and was very stubborn and private. He made his own choices, and he paid for them. It’s no one’s fault but his own.
I, too, see things as I am, not as they are. I want to believe that our friend died because he chose to, because then I don’t have to feel I could have done more for him. I still feel tremendous guilt, even though I know our friend probably would have spurned any attempt on my part to help him. Otherwise, why did he drive me away?
Meanwhile, I struggle not to argue with Hughie and to let him have his perspective. I have described mine to him, and he disagrees, so we don’t talk much about our differing opinions. The fact remains that our friend is dead, and we have to live with whatever feelings we have about it. We have to move on. We have to forgive ourselves for whatever we think we did or didn’t do, which is the hardest part. Things aren’t as they are, but as we are.