Sometimes, you defend people because it's right, because they're your friend, and you would do anything for them because you love them. And you would give up something for them, in defense of them, because it's the right thing to do.
But that doesn't mean they will do the same for you.
I said this to my mother last week, over dinner. She was teaching me how to make beef stew and we were catching up, reminiscing, and doing what human beings do over a bowl of food; we were exchanging information.
When I said the above, we were going over something that had happened long in our past, something that doesn't come up very often, but as most of us do, the subject had wandered into this far-afield spot we rarely ever visit. And I said what I said because it was a lesson I finally learned just before my 41st birthday.
There are many milestones that occur in our lives that mark the transition from childhood into adulthood. A good many cultures celebrate these transitions in ceremonies: the quinceañera, a bar mitvah, the Satere-Mawe tribe's manhood initiation of wearing Bullet Ant gloves. But I don't think a specific ceremony cuts it. It's many little moments that happen over the course of a life that add to one's knowledge base of understanding humanity. And when one of these moments happen you think to yourself Oh. So that's how this works. OK. Understood, Universe. You mature, most times against your will, and little bit sad that some of that naivete is now gone. Our world, our reality, is a lot easier to live in when you imagine that the monsters are black-furred, yellow-eyed, and living underneath your bed, much easier when you believe everyone has your best interests at heart, far easier when you feel it in your bones that everyone wants to work toward a greater good, and definitely easier when you imagine that everyone you meet can be your friend.
Unfortunately, humanity doesn't operate like that and those are some hard lessons to learn, far more difficult than calculus. The School of Life has a rather cruel Headmistress and she doesn't really care if a lesson stings.
The lesson I'm speaking of in this blog post started when I was 18. I was lucky in that I was 18 before I learned an adult will just as soon turn on you as nurture you and they will do it for their own ends. When it happened, I was utterly shattered. I was there, I had passed that American cusp of becoming a legal, voting adult, ready to become an adult who would nurture and lead and guide when one of those nurturing, leading guides gave it to me but good. I remember curling up between the wall of my bedroom and my dresser, making myself as small as physically possible, to emulate the size my emotional self felt at that moment, and crying great heaving gulps of tears. I think my mother worried for my sanity.
I eventually got over it, but filed it away as a Lesson titled "Adults Can Totally Break a Kid's Heart." Little did I know that this lesson wasn't over. It wasn't until seven years later that part two was presented on a silver platter by the Universe. This Lesson was titled "Adults Can Totally Break Another Adult's Heart For No Other Reason Than They Are Bitter And Want To Make Everyone Around Them Unhappy As Well." When this lesson was presented to me, I did the only thing I could do, that I knew how to do. I defended the person who was being hurt. I stood up for this person, even giving up something I loved in the process. I spread my feet, hands on hips, and shouted at the top of my lungs, "YOU WILL NOT DO THIS BECAUSE IT IS WRONG! BUT IF YOU CONTINUE ON THIS PATH, YOU WILL DO IT WITHOUT ME AND I WILL TELL EVERYONE EVERYWHERE HOW WRONG YOU ARE!"
And I did it, too. I stepped back from this thing I cherished, loved, adored, all in the name of friendship. I did it knowing deep down that this friend would always have my back as well.
I was wrong.
The third and final part of this Lesson, titled "Adults Who You Have Defended Will Not Always Defend You In Return" was presented in my life class 15 years later, a full 22 years after the first part of the lesson. When it happened, it wasn't explosive or in my face. It was actually rather quiet. No one really noticed it but me. When it happened, when I realized that this person, who I considered to be family, who I stood up for, had never even thought to protect or shield me, I was devastated. I remember again crying as the hurt of 18-year-old me, 22 years prior, welled up to the surface, and I thought...
Life sucks. These lessons suck. I hate this shit. I hate this School of Life. I'm done.
Except I wasn't done. Being truly "done" meant shuffling off this mortal coil and I certainly wasn't going to hasten that. I decided after having my cry that "done" in this context meant turning off my phone and computer, eating chocolate, and watching as much Top Gear as humanly possible.
And when I finally stepped back, I realized that all things happen for a reason. They are all learning moments, teaching moments, moments that get us through this ridiculous traffic jam of life and give us example moments for our kids so they're at least prepared for their moment when an adult breaks their heart during their childhood, during their adulthood, and when a friend stops being a friend and becomes just another person in humanity's crowd.
When I uttered those words, at the top of this post, to my mother, it was the culmination of a lesson I never wanted to learn, but ultimately had to. I had to learn this so that when it happens again, and oh yes it will happen, maybe my heart won't break. Because I'll expect it.