When I lived in Africa I shared a house with three American teachers. One of them—Susan—was popular, kind, authentic, fun and interesting. She worked as a special needs teacher, so she got to work one-on-one with kids.
Naturally, she soon started dating the kindest, smartest, handsomest bachelor at our school (he was a Canadian guidance counselor. Not fair!).
Susan was my worst enemy, and she didn’t even know it. I was intimated by her, jealous of her, and uncomfortable around her.
When Ruby and I went to Death Valley last year, Susan messaged me on Facebook. She and her husband were living in the Grand Canyon—do I want to come visit? Her husband is an environmental biologist in the Canyon; they have a little apartment in the Village and a home in Flagstaff.
Luckily, I didn’t have time. I was also struggling with my marriage. No way did I want to see Susan, her successful husband, perfect daughters, and gorgeous homes.
But a couple days ago, as I was driving through Nevada and into Arizona, I kept seeing signs for Grand Canyon National Park. Every time I saw a sign, I thought of Susan.
So I did it. I sent her a message and asked if we could go for a walk.
Meeting my worst enemy
Susan is just as kind, authentic, fun and interesting as she was 20 years ago. She’s also more caring, compassionate and admirable than ever. In addition to taking care of two busy daughters, a husband, aging parents, two homes and her own health issues, she started a new charter school in a small community outside Flagstaff.
And—get this—she didn’t just invite me to stay with her family in Flagstaff. She also said I could stay in their apartment in the Grand Canyon Village. See how nice she is?
This time I wasn’t intimidated. I didn’t feel jealous or insecure. Just the opposite, in fact. I felt comfortable and happy with her, and I want her to have all the good things in the world.
That’s when I realized Susan wasn’t my worst enemy.
Have you met your worst enemy?
I was my own worst enemy when I lived with Susan. I was insecure, anxious, and scared. This made me judgmental, critical and harsh.
The problem is, I didn’t realize the hell I created for myself until I left Africa. I needed distance, space, and time. I needed to be alone, lonely and undistracted—which I often am on the road. I needed to go down into my deepest, darkest shadow self. Above all, I needed to face my demons.
Susan told me the ecosystem deep down in the Grand Canyon is completely different than on the rim. In fact, there are five distinct ecosystems at different elevations in the Canyon (and one is called the Canadian!).
Maybe that’s what it’s like with us humans: when we go deep within, we find an entirely different ecosystem than what we show the world. And maybe that deeper, darker, hidden ecosystem is richer and more life-giving than the parts we let people see.
I’m spending this weekend at Susan’s apartment in the Grand Canyon. There, I might make a video about going within, facing our worst enemies, and emerging healthier and stronger.
The Devil’s Playground
Speaking of videos, last week I made Attacked by a Family Member? Handling Accusations From a Relative in the Devil’s Playground, California.
If you feel harshly criticized by a loved one—or if you’re dreading family get-togethers this season—I hope my experience helps you.