Lebenslüge. Life lies. What a great German phrase a new friend shared with me. She asked me at the end of our first meeting, why I tell myself life lies, lebenslüge. I couldn’t answer her immediately because I fell in love with that word and had to hold it and examine it for a while. I realized that in this particular instance, it was about self-effacing jokes. And there’s always a kernel of truth in jokes. So I threw out little self-effacing funnies as a protective disclaimer, as a justification to the world, a defense. It’s a little bit of posturing to someone new who couldn’t believe I could have glitter in my hair and also be credible as a consultant.
We all do this, tell life lies. It varies, how big your life lies are, how much you believe your life lies, how tightly you hold on to your life lies. The stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances and our selves matter, because it’s these story lines that create our suffering. And suffering is optional.
I used to tell grand stories, tall tales of woe and misfortune and despair. Until I met Grace. Grace and I have a complicated relationship. She is patient and kind and wants to be an integral part of my life. I would like this as well, but I don’t let Grace in my life as much as I should because sometimes I’m grumpy and don’t want to be patient and kind. I’m learning that it’s particularly important for me to ask Grace over for a playdate in those grumpy, impatient, unkind times.
Grace taught me to be kind to myself. Grace taught me that these life lies and story lines I told myself were merely lies. Stories. They weren’t truths. In fact, it was rarely ever about me. I used to think perhaps I wasn’t smart enough, or attractive enough,or witty enough to get the job, or keep the boyfriend, or have all those cool friends. Lebenslüge.
Hope is another friend I have a complicated relationship with. Some days I hate Hope because she shows up with the potential of wonderful things. And I am ambivalent about Hope because she’s unreliable. I never know when the potential is realized, or if I’ll be disappointed. Hope is a beautiful friend, so full of light and love. But half the time she brings beautifully wrapped boxes that only hold disappointments and sadness. She needs to learn to bring better hostess gifts like wine or an Edible Arrangement.
Oprah (not a friend, but I think Grace and Hope are her close friends) said “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” And even though Oprah is not a personal friend of mine, I feel close to her because I grew up with her in my living room on the TV. She is a wise sage, and I’ve come to learn to believe when someone tells me who he is despite my desperate desire for a different reality.
And so recently I started to prepare for a pity party and began to send out evites to a few close friends. When I realized I was Lebenslüging (yes, I totally made that German word a verb). I had started to feel anxious and all feely about someone. Someone who I liked a lot, someone I had introduced to Hope. I was feeling anxious because I didn’t like acknowledging the person he was showing me he was. I didn’t like the realization that this person was no longer good for me, or good to me. And so he had no place in my life. Grace reminded me that I need to be kind to myself, and continuing to allow him in my life was not kind. Grace kindly asked Hope to leave the room.
So as we’re apt to do with a loss, I started to feel really sad. And I may or may not have started to catastrophize and generalize. Then I remembered this isn’t about me. The part that was about me is the part that decided I’ve given enough Grace to try to make this work through time and chances. The rest is about him and his decisions. That’s really all there is to the story. Everything else is the story line, the life lies, lebenslüge. Suffering is optional.