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Friends Can Save Us From Pity Parties

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By Dalton Roberts – Columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press* • • October 19, 2008

Pity Party"The Buddha was certainly right in saying that suffering is a large part of our life journey. But Helen Keller was also right in saying, 'So is the overcoming of suffering.'"Dalton Roberts

Naomi Patterson reminded me today that some of my best pity parties have evaporated when a good friend walked in.

One of my most delicious insights in creating friends by computer has been that some of them become as dear to you as friends you know well and see often. That's how I feel about Naomi. We started emailing soon after I went online and she has become very special to me. She is a columnist for the Topeka Capitol Journal ** and has written three books of poetry that I own and treasure.

It is beautiful how she takes so many life experiences - good or bad - as another good excuse to write a poem. We all have to develop personal survival techniques and what could beat whipping some challenge with a poem?

In her latest creation titled "Party Crashers" she writes,

"My semi-annual pity bash began without a hitch. Stunning in a sackcloth gown, I sprinkled ashes in my wake, mixed hot tears with lemon rind to keep the wounds alive, and rolled my pain in salt … But unexpected visitors arrived and spoiled my plans. One showed up with flowers that brightened my décor, another ran an errand that spared me time and grief … Another pity party flop, hijacked by my friends."

Isn't that a marvelous description of what happens to us when we sit patting out our melancholy mud pies and a much-loved friend shows up? We are really energy beings and the energy field of a friend can often neutralize all the negative stuff in our own energy field. "Neutralize" is really too weak a word to describe how powerful it can be at times. It can be as powerful as a Roman candle moving through all the dark corners of our being spreading sparkles.

Churchill said when Franklin Delano Roosevelt walked in a room it was like popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. Every single one of us is a cork popper to someone.

I think about the extreme pain that gripped me at Memorial Hospital when my mother was dying. Stan McCready, one of my favorite ministers, walked in and brought consoling thoughts. Then a freshly trained young Wesleyan minister, Allen Morgan, came in and prayed a powerful, healing prayer. But the biggest surprise of all was the energy changes I felt over those 16 days from visits by friends with no special training in comfort and healing.

I am not saying the emotions we experience at the passing of our mothers are a pity party but we all know that such times can quickly destabilize us and lead to prolonged pity parties. Any negative experience can hurl us into that dark closet.

One thing I've learned is that the earlier in our pain a friend arrives, the better our odds of avoiding a pity party. Once we are frozen in a pain pattern, the harder it is for us to dislodge.

I spent most of a day with a musician friend who was dogged by depression. I made him promise to call me if he was thinking of suicide. He didn't. He took a handful of pills and drank a half pint of vodka. His landlord found him three days later.

Mental health experts may disagree with me but I think even clinical depression in its early stages can be influenced by the appearance of a friend.

The same friend had been on the verge of suicide the day I visited him and stayed all day. Toward the end of the day we were making music, laughing and swapping tales from our musical trails.

The Buddha was certainly right in saying that suffering is a large part of our life journey. But Helen Keller was also right in saying, "So is the overcoming of suffering." And sometimes we overcome suffering when we open our door for the visit of a friend.
* Dalton Roberts (“The Downhome Philosopher”) is a columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Chattanooga, Tennessee ( This column, published Friday, August 8, 2008, is reproduced here with kind permission of the author and publisher. To read more of Mr. Dalton’s amusing and inspiring columns, visit his website at E-mail Dalton Roberts at

** Naomi B. Patterson - a retired clinical psychologist, poet, and columnist for the Topeka Capital Journal, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago. To read some of her recent columns, such as "It's all in your head," click here. Dr. Patterson’s published books of poetry include Living Out Loud, Thinking Out Loud, and For Crying Out Loud.


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