Recently I found myself in a situation fertile for gossip.
There he was, my friend’s boyfriend of many years, walking into the restaurant where my husband and I were having dinner, on his arm a prettier and much younger woman than she. We had seen them twice before, only this time, although impossible to not have been noticed, we didn’t deserve so much as a nod of greeting. Together alone but arms unlinked at the previous sightings, they qualified yet for the benefit of the doubt. But this time…
There was a time I might have taken a triple sighting such as this one as a providential signal that I was entrusted with a mission: alert the victim—the betrayed—for her sake. For why else, indeed, did it all happen right in my face? In any case, I may have been only predisposed to tell, as I myself might have preferred to be told if I had been in my friend’s place.
As it happened, I dithered. And I was in such an uncertain state of mind when someone e-mailed me a story so apt it may itself be providential:
An acquaintance begins to tell Socrates about fellow philosopher Diogenes. But before letting him get into his story, Socrates puts it to the test, asking, first, if it’s true, second, if it’s good for Diogenes, and third, if it’s useful to the one it’s being told to—Socrates in this case.
To all three questions, the answer is doubtful. Socrates, won’t, therefore, hear of it, thus passing up the chance to learn that Diogenes is sleeping with his wife.
But what is the real tragedy about a gossip, even if it turns out to be true, as very possibly it is in my friend’s case? That she doesn’t know about it or that she is not told about it by an eyewitness friend?
Formula for happiness
Whenever I need to make sense of such things, I turn to Eastern philosophy’s formula for happiness: Live life from the perspective of a witness, as with a mirror, which takes in all images in front of it without making any judgment.
My responsibility, in other words, is to let the gossip die with me. And if I, by reason of weakness, can’t contain it, I have two friends who happen to be the original gossip busters. And I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that they also happen to be the luckiest and most cheerful people I know.
As it happened, I saw both of them, with other friends, at lunch the day following that third incriminating sighting. But the opportunity did not present itself, and sometimes postponing gossip is all it takes to kill it.
But, again, temptations are always there to challenge Socrates. The day after the lunch, I saw the gossip’s victim herself at a meeting, looking enthused about life, convincing me more than ever that she can be strong for the worst that it will bring her. In my heart I wished her well.
Another friend everyone should have is Marichi, a college classmate who is a genius for remembering faces and names and situating them. She could trace people at least two generations back. Her memory is so reliable my editor husband says she would have made an excellent reporter. With her validating memory, Marichi has herself raised gossip to the level of a good story.
She calls to invite me to lunch with other friends, and I’m only too happy to see her back in her old form, her health restored apparently by alternative treatment. She has not called often enough and I have missed our conversations:
“Teresita, do you remember him…?”
Of course, I didn’t. But coming from Marichi this had to be a good story. She went into a detailed family history of the man in question, tracing him back to a national hero from her province. When that still didn’t work, she named his ex-girlfriend from a rival school before he married his wife. I seemed now on track. And when she placed him at a memorable party at her cousin’s house back when driveways became dance floors, thanks to Borax, describing his strange boogie steps, the man and picture were unmistakable.
“Oh, him… cutie! So what about him?”
“Well,” Marichi kept me hanging in some suspense, “he just died.”
I buried that one quickly and appropriately enough at the libingan ng mga chismis.