One afternoon, I was taking a walk with a good friend of mine. I’ll call her Julie.
Julie and I have been friends for a couple of years now. She is beautiful—on the outside and on the in—and I think very highly of her. Sometimes, though, I feel compelled— almost beyond my ability to control it—to give Julie the very great benefit of something she doesn’t really even want.
In other words: I give her advice.
On this particular day, I was feeling especially helpful. We were walking together, as I said, which is an activity that is (like sitting in coffee shops) especially conducive to good conversation and it has another benefit as well: Unlike sitting in coffee shops, it is hard for the other person to get away.
So. We were walking together, and I was busy giving her my advice when suddenly, it hit me:
I have no idea how to help her.
Sometimes when I give advice, you see, the solution I’m presenting seems really very black and white. Or it seems all black or all white.
(You may have noticed this yourself sometime, dear reader. Other people’s problems are often delightfully simple to solve.)
Anyway. After I realized this, I suddenly stopped short (not my walking, but my talking, which is much better), and began to listen instead.
And then she began to really talk.
It was her boyfriend, she said. He had left her and he still loved her but he decided it wouldn’t work.
It was her job, she said. She absolutely hated it but she didn’t know what would be better.
It was her finances, she said. If she wasn’t so broke, everything else would be so much easier to figure out.
She hated her boss. She disliked her apartment. She had run out of her medication.
It was rough.
And it was rough for me to hear, made rougher still when I realized—knew, deeply, and with so much sympathy and pain—there was nothing I could say to help.
And then, she was done. By then, we were just passing the last bunch of trees and soon we would be home. I knew I had to say something, to offer something—or that even if I didn’t have to I really wanted to before leaving her alone.
And in that moment, one of the wisest things I’ve ever said came tripping out of my mouth with an eloquence I can hardly bring myself to take credit for:
“There is no blueprint for life,” I said. “You just try shit, and see what works.”
Even as I said these words:
I was shocked.
I don’t know what effect, if any, these words had on Julie that day. But I do know what effect they had on me:
They changed me forever. How?
In short: They made me free.
And I am so glad to be free.