We follow a path that we often wish was not quite so strewn with rubble and pocked with hidden adversity. Sometimes we look back from where we started out and are amazed that we made it as far as we have without suffering the ultimate calamity and wonder why so many we loved along the way did.
When I was thirteen I greatly admired the daughter of one of my father’s friends. She was several years older than me, sixteen at the time, and I thought she had everything going for her. She was not only one of the more popular girls at her high school but was intelligent, beautiful, felicitous, and sophisticated. In other words, she was a role model for this confused and angry boy who was trying to make sense out of the painful world he was born into. With the myriad of questions boiling out of my heart some might have seen me as a pest but Marsha never treated me as a nuisance and answered my questions about the years to come the best she could.
We continued on our different paths and occasionally shared the same lane for a few moments now and again when our families came together. On one of her forks she stumbled into a deep pit when her family fell into hard times and I watched a once happy friend, mentor, and teacher grow sadder and more despondent with each passing day and, I thought at the time, it was to be expected. The family lost their income and their house. She lost her identity along with the material and continued to fall deeper into despair. I remember going for a walk with her one day and about all she would do was stare at the sidewalk. I had no questions for her that day and she had no answers. That Sunday afternoon walk of silence was to be the last time I saw her alive because the very next week, on her walk to the high school, she stepped off the curb and into the path of a bobtail truck.
I did not understand her desperation at the time and here, nearly a half-century later; I still don’t fully grasp it. I’ve heard people say that suicide is that ultimate measure of cowardice but I don’t believe it for a moment. Being one who has contemplated it, but unable to follow through, it seems so much more the opposite.
Some years ago a very wise man told me: ‘If you accept the fact that everyone you meet is doing the absolute best that they can with what they know and have at the time then their actions won’t seem so disagreeable.’
That one bit of advice has served me well over the years. No, it doesn’t stop the tears that come along with the memory, or the image, of an old friend no longer here, but it helps me to understand that she, like the rest of us, was doing her very best at the time. It also doesn’t keep me from wishing that someone could have seen through her pain and offered her that little extra to keep her going on – but then, all the others were doing their best at the time with what they had.
Sometimes our best is not good enough and sometimes we look back upon the past with perhaps a little guilt, a little shame, and maybe even a little what if. Well guilt, shame, and what ifs do not change the past but can hamper our progress and cloud all of our right now’s where everyone is always doing their best, everyone is always giving their best, and everyone is always their best.