[This post is part of an effort this year to be more open about things I struggle with. In this post, I talk about my struggle with trying to be there for people in a meaningful way.]
My friend Arjun committed suicide last September. I’m “over it” in as much of a functional sense as possible, but I still think about him all the time.
I miss him so much. He was among my best friends in high school. We cofounded our startup together. When we left that to go to college, I would crash in his apartment when I came to visit. We played music together; he played drums and cajon, but he gave away his cajon to someone he said “needed it more.” He was always the first to experiment with new technologies and programming languages, and he always had a refreshingly grounded perspective of Bay Area startups. We shared the same cynicism for the recent explosion in entrepreneurship, but also the same passion for doing and building. I wish I could tell him about all the things I’m up to these days, brainstorm things for me to pursue after graduation, and ask for his advice. That will never happen again.
But here’s the funny thing: I don’t know if I would be so eager to talk to him if he weren’t dead. Death has an interesting way of doing that. He had moved to the Bay Area for work, but even though he was only an hour or two away, I only saw him a handful of times per year. In terms of frequency of contact, nothing has changed that much, but the finality of it feels so heavy. Everything has changed, forever.
I don’t feel guilty or responsible; Arjun seemed fine before he committed suicide, and we had no indication that anything was wrong. But that’s also one reason it disturbs me so much. What was he dealing with? If I had put a bit more energy into reaching out, would he have told me? And, most importantly: How many more of my friends are struggling right now, and I don’t have the slightest clue? How can I find and help those people?
I wish I could be there for everyone before they die… But energy is finite, and if I’m there for everyone, I’m there for no one at all. I have spent much more effort in the past few months trying to spend time with more people – talking, getting meals, and going out to do things – but I have realized in doing so, I have so much less time for the people I used to be closest to. Last week, I walked past some of my close transfer friends playing board games in a common space in the dorm. One of them called out, “Hey Ryan! Remember when you used to hang out with us? Remember when you used to like me?” She meant it as a joke, of course, but only partially so. There is truth there; I haven’t been there for people.
What’s one to do? Of course, I can’t be there for everyone, and I accept that. But I still try, and I struggle to find a way to try while still being there for close friends in meaningful ways. How do I communicate to someone that I am here for you, and if you are in need, I will help you in more than just words? And how do I manage my life so that when someone actually does open up and demonstrates need, I actually have time and energy to help them?
I’m sure this is something I will get better at over time. I pray about it (obligatory reference to Give Me Your Eyes), and I try to keep myself accountable by journaling regularly. Still, it’s often not enough. I wish I could do more.