Thursday, January 8, 2015

Losing and Winning

I lost a friend last week.

I first met John when I was 17 years old. On my first day of the best job I would ever have. And the most rare and special thing about that job was that I knew--as it was happening--that it would be the best time of my life. How many things can we really say that about?

To me, one of the reasons that job was so amazing was the people I was working with. And one of those people was John.

As I was standing among the hundreds of people who came out to celebrate John’s life and share memories of this amazing man, I realized that my own sadness extended beyond just having to say goodbye to him. I felt so sad. I also felt a real and palpable sadness because some of these people—these friends of mine—were people I never really saw anymore. That felt like an additional loss.
Why does it take the death of a good friend to put me in the same room as people I genuinely love and care about? No one—not one person—is too busy to make time for an old friend. We all can sure as hell find time to attend a friend’s funeral.

But I realized something else that cold night we were saying goodbye to John. There are honestly some things I don’t have time for. I don’t have time for people who don’t make me happy. Don’t add value to my life. Cost more than I can afford. It is always sad to let go of someone you care about. That too feels like a loss. Sigh. So many losses.

“Life is a zero-sum game,” I heard a stranger say.

My first thought was, yes it certainly is. But then. Wait, what? No. No it isn't.

In economics, there is a lot of math. I’m not good at math, which I think is primarily due to the difficulty my brain has with absolutes. Because I am not good at math, I’m not especially good at economic theories. But some theories involve cake. I am good at those.

For example, imagine I have a cake. (Something with cream cheese frosting, please.) And imagine I am choosing to share this delicious confection with my friends. I know, that doesn’t sound like me. But stay with me for a minute.

If I take a larger share of cake (OK, that does sound more like me…), it will leave less for my friends. Because there is only one cake. I can only have more cake if I leave less for others. This is what is referred to as a zero-sum game. I know. Math is hard.

But here is why friendship is even better than cake. Friendships aren’t a zero-sum game. With real friends, there is always enough cake. And life cannot be a zero-sum game because there isn’t a finite amount of happiness out there.

I know that the feeling of loss was overwhelming most people in the room that night.  But life is never a zero-sum game. I know it can feel like we lost when we are burying a friend.  As I looked around that room packed with people that loved John, I realized that we all won. Yes, we all lost him, but each one of us was better for having known him.

I realized I was standing with, embracing, reminiscing with people to whom I would happily give all my cake. And that was also a win.

To my friend John, you are a huge win for all of us. Thank you.

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