Threshold of trust

The Question: Does trust have a meaning anymore?



…It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.”

This part of The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer always stops me in my tracks. Can we be true to ourselves and true to others? Or are we just setting ourselves and our loved ones up for failure by having expectations that nobody should be expected to meet?

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. Perhaps, instead of asking ourselves if trust still has meaning, we should be asking ourselves if the meaning we have given it is unrealistic and unfair.

Why have I seen the most trustworthy of people slowly wilt away as they deny themselves the beauty of their dreams? Why have I seen those who sacrifice their own happiness to make others happy?

I don’t have the answers. But I know that if my loved ones had to choose between being loyal and being happy, I hope they choose happy!

So maybe “trust” is believing that everyone is inherently good. And that no matter what happens – the good and the bad – it’s all part of a greater, bigger, happier picture where everybody wins.


I believe trust defines every relationship. It sets both the limits and type of relationship we have with all living things.

Trust is never all or nothing, it exists in degrees – even in the best relationships. It can never be 100 percent and it is rarely zero. The trust we carry in our relationships is variable and often changing. I might trust a friend enough to loan them $20, but I may not trust them enough to give them open access to my bank account. I might trust my dog to come when I call it, but I might not trust it to do the same when it is chasing a rabbit. As a result, how I interact with my friend and with my dog will be determined by how and how much I trust them.

I think trust is the capital that we use to measure the worth of our relationships. Relationships evolve largely because our experiences with people and animals add or remove trust from the piggy bank. The more trust we have for someone or something, the stronger the bond.

But it becomes more complicated than that when we consider that we have different trusts for different circumstances. For example, I trust my wife with most everything she does. But I when it comes to flying a plane I would trust a complete stranger with a pilot license more than I would trust my wife.

Therefore, I think trust is similar to a box that is big enough to hold our relationships. In a good relationship, sometimes the box is like the universe, huge and expanding rapidly, and in a poor relationship, trust might be so minuscule, it could only be viewed with an electron microscope.


I commute from Evanston to 31st and State Street in Chicago and back most every working day. Especially in winter, there must be trust between more than a few things. Me. The bike. The weather. The cars. The buildings that block the wind. 

If a building that once was there is no longer there the wind finds a way through.

The building, the restaurant that once was here was a place. Waiters, waitresses, cooks, food, hostesses, proprietors, diners, meals, tables, booths, and on some nights, musicians their families and fans.

You trust that things will always be. But things change. They always do. 

My daughter played music here. Played guitar with her class. Her teacher tuned her guitar. 

Her class performed with her teachers.

Her brother looked on and on.

The wind finds its way through here but I trust the memories to keep me warm.



Someone put this pond here just for me. Listen to the waves lap—quiet but steady. And its promising blue center offers refreshment. I love to swim. It also looks cold. I’ll start with a toe. Yes, cold, just like I thought. But I’m getting used to it. Easing in: a foot, two feet, going slowly and adjusting.  I’m looking forward to a swim, a float, my hair trailing behind me: giving myself up to the water. I can almost feel it, that weightless bob. Up to my ankles now. It’s important to go slowly. What if I get all the way in and fish nibble my toes? I wonder what lives on the bottom anyway. What if it’s full of grasses and they feel gross on my bare feet? Or the shards of someone’s glass bottle that might cut me? Edging in, up to my knees. I’m getting to know this pond. I reach down and splash water up to my elbows. I make myself laugh with splashing. The pond is obliging; it wants to cool me off. You know, grasses or cut glass could be the least of it. What if this pond has leeches? Leeches that suck at my skin and won’t come off until I pour salt all over them and who really has salt right now? That would be the worst. That would be something I almost couldn’t survive, bloody legs, screaming and pulling leeches off me. But this probably isn’t a pond like that. Up to my waist now, feet squishing in the mud and so far it just feels like a regular pond doing its job, which is to cool me off. Just a plain old muddy bottom, Oh I’ll just do it: take the literal plunge. I doubt this pond holds any big surprises. Alligators live in the ocean, not ponds like this one. Nope, this is just a harmless pond meant for swimming in. And if the worst did come true, if I did climb out fighting leeches, then I would have to note that this pond isn’t a great one. But even then, that would not be true of all ponds. No, just this one. Other ponds might deliver on their promise and they might be leech-free. And if I don’t go in, I’ll never know what this pond holds besides its cool water. So here I go, on a swim like any other.  I’m holding my breath, and then I surface: I’m cool and laughing and weightless, buoyed by the water and its promise. I’m afloat and all is well. I’m swimming again.


Born, small, blind, indistinct, then an explosion of light.

Human hands, large and small. My careful hands, and we started a journey.

I lost a companion last week, just a few days ago, who has been beside me in heartache, strain, adventure. We walked miles and miles of snowy Kansas flint hills and dashed through clouds of prairie mosquitoes.

She kept vigil over me when I curled up to sleep, and I her. 

Later, the long journey across time and losing an entire day, then 44 more until we were reunited in a dismal, browned out quarantine facility west of Sydney.

And then we had years. 

I lost this friend, who was the result of all my best qualities, who never put them away for later. It was an always personality, always joy. I could never imagine losing her.

Almost 17 years later from that first tumbling mass of surprise and squeaks, I cradled her as her precious life drained out of her too fast, from a funnel with a large, generous opening. I could not catch it, I cannot get it back. It left her with tired, tired relief.

A twilight mind, this old friend, who aged so much faster than me, and it broke me. I trusted when the day came, I would be relieved she was out of her discomfort, but my heart betrayed me. 

So I wonder how well I can predict how much, or how little I will care about anything. As I stood over the stove on the night of her death, in a scorching, dense evening heat outside and inside she could not have tolerated, so vast was her dementia and aimless wandering, I felt there was little point in anything. I am weak and blurry from trying to figure it.

If I have so little faith in the trust in my most vulnerable feelings, how can I reliably give that judgment to others? 

I trusted if for any reason we were forced to make that final choice that is within our power as humans, the justification would tint the bleak decision. And I was wrong, and I’m gutted. 

But I know it was right, and still, why does trust hurt so much?


               His email arrived the day before my son’s birthday.  I later wondered if the timing was intentional.

               My thumb scrolled through the message on my phone, my eyes resting on the words in the center.  “I appreciate your offer to ‘come to the table,’ but that’s not what I’m looking for,” he wrote.  “I’m really sorry for my incidents of deceit, and I feel horrible that I betrayed your trust.”

               Betrayed trust.

               Betrayed trust.

               The words ran circles in my mind in search of a place to land.

               Months earlier, we had laughed over tennis and rode our bikes through the trees at Herrick Lake.  He drove me to the emergency room the night my eyes swelled shut, and my lips ballooned, the result of an allergic reaction. With his head resting against the wall, he sat next to my hospital bed, holding my hand.  Never lovers, but more than friends.

               I last spoke to him over a year ago when I had questioned his elusive behavior for the final time.

               Eight weeks later, his email appeared.

               I suggested we talk in person, but he declined. He had plans with his new girlfriend “if I must know.”  “Sometimes these things just happen.”

               Heat swelled from my jaw to the top of my head, and my heart beat faster. I dialed his number and screeched into the phone, “You’re a loser alcoholic and a pathological liar.” He hung up, and I jibed him with text messages as tears blinked from my eyes.

               “Please stop” was his only response.

               “I can’t believe you are treating me this way. How can you deceive a friend? I trusted you.”

               A year later, I’ve moved past his deceits, but every now and then I recall the nasty things I said to him, and I wonder… was I the only one whose trust was betrayed? 


For me, trust is essential, but it is not an absolute.  I don’t roll out the red carpet welcome for strangers. I may wave a friendly hello and give the benefit of a doubt, but I’m nobody’s fool. My trust is hard-won because it was hard-earned.

It’d be nice if I felt I could journey through life like a monk with a begging bowl, relying on the kindness of strangers, but having been lied to, cheated, and victimized by gossips and done the same to others myself…To trust or not to trust. That is the question.

I’ve lied. People lie. Sometimes out of malice. 

Sometimes out of a benign desire to a follow a personal agenda that’s none of your goddamn business.  Lots of reasons, lots of lies. 

It’s amazing that trust can exist in such a climate of deception, but it does.

Trust is conditional though, because we are not perfect people. Due to upbringing, disposition and God knows what else, we are subject to bias. 

Like birds that will peck an outlier to death, people often operate from the same kind of atavistic fear.  Faced with perceived danger, we stand our ground and fight or run away to fight another day.

This survivalist fear reaction has been around for eons and eons but I believe the need for trust has been around just as long. 

Trust allows us to indulge our innate curiosity to explore, and in that curious exploration, there is freedom.

The impulses coexist in me. Alternating between freedom and fear, my progress through life is ungainly. In fear, I lurch like an earth-bound albatross, but fearless and trusting I take flight and soar above. And that is progress indeed.


NEXT WEEK’S QUESTION: How similar is your life today to the life you imagined as a child?

Posted by MMJ

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