November 07, 2012

A true friend

I've been thinking of Madeleine a lot lately - I don't know why. Perhaps because I've been thinking of leaving the therapy group I'm in, and it was Madeleine who first suggested I join it. (At least, she suggested I look into therapy, and the group is what came out of that.)

I had two titles in mind for this, the other one being 'Delicacy'. And let it be said right now that in many ways Madeleine had bugger-all delicacy. Sometimes she repudiated delicacy, deliberately evoking awkward, messy, smelly bodily realities. There was nothing delicate (sadly) about her rather rudimentary sense of humour: I remember those awful teases she went in for, which put me in mind of trying to play with a baby elephant. Then there was her extravagantly over-developed ability to take what seemed to be quite genuine, acutely-felt offence, which she expressed with all the delicacy of a powerful beast in pain. But I guess in those moments she was - in pain, that is.

So in a lot of ways - a lot of very memorable and only slightly endearing ways - she was anything but delicate. But if I set that aside, and think of what happened - what kept on happening - when she tuned in to what I said to her... She was an extraordinarily sensitive listener, even in print - she was like a medium, picking up the voices of the living. When it came to picking apart what I said to her - and what I didn't say; when it came to distinguishing what I really wanted from what I thought I wanted, what I believed in from what I was afraid not to believe in - then, she had the delicacy of a watchmaker. Over and again, she helped me not to be afraid, and without ever doing anything as crass as telling me I didn't need to be afraid. Over and again, she spotted the moments when I was saying No out of fear, or when I was insisting on saying Yes because I was afraid of what might happen if I said no, and she said... is that right? are you sure? you seem very definite, but I was just wondering, are you sure that's what you want? A gentle drip, drip, drip of careful, attentive scepticism - so powerful, so hard to resist. Not even the rain has such small hands.

We hadn't been very close for a while when she died; our last few exchanges had been on the wounded-animal level, or playful-elephant at best. But when we were close, she did something extraordinary, that I think only a true friend can do: she reflected me back to myself with my thoughts and hopes and dreams intact, but without any of the fear. I'll never forget that, and I'll always be grateful. We only met once - and I never spent any time alone with her - but she was a true friend.


Posted by maddyfriends at November 7, 2012 05:51 PM