We had a Rilke reading at our wedding that I often go back to when I get frustrated about our differences and the difficulties that come with being married to someone who is so vastly different than me.
“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances continue to exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
Marco and I are, indeed, vastly different. We were discussing this the other night. I was making the argument that perhaps he’s not as smart as he thinks he is because he chose me as a partner - not because I am bad but because I provide for him so much difficulty (and vice versa). Let’s put it this way, I don’t think we’d be matched on eHarmony. But he made the argument that perhaps we are even smarter than we realize because we chose partners who push us and make us grow. We sought out that which challenges us. I’ll have to remember that the next time we’re arguing and I get overwhelmed by his lack of empathy and ability to manipulate emotions and think I may have married the worst person in the entire world and he’s frustrated by my torrent of emotions and inability to converse reasonably. No, I married the right person to guard my solitude and the right person to yank me out of my comfort and make me see the world in a new light. It’s terrible and amazing.
But the gap can be so great sometimes, with him and with others in my life. And it’s hard to determine when my attempts to close the gap between me and another person have become too dangerous for me and for them. Sometimes a gap becomes a chasm and the reaching across becomes treacherous. Marco and I have managed to find a nice gap to live with, one that doesn’t trip us up too much, but I haven’t found that balance with everyone.
Distance can make a chasm. Lack of effort can make a chasm. Life events can make a chasm. Emotions can make a chasm. Mental illness can make a chasm. Schedules can make a chasm. Work can make a chasm.
And sometimes we utterly fail. We choose the wrong way to communicate. We say the wrong words. We get the wrong timing. We let too much time pass. We forget. And suddenly, the train has left the station, and we’re falling. And it’s too late.
And sometimes others fail us. And they cling too tightly. Or they push us too hard. They expect us to make all the effort. They don’t meet us halfway. Or they mistake our struggle for abandonment. Or they misunderstand our words. Or they take everything the wrong way. And suddenly we’re on the train alone, wondering what happened.
For true friendship, for the healthy, moon-viewing, expansive sky, loving space, we need real compassion. But so often we (and I mean me now mostly), confuse more dangerous qualities with compassion.
- We pity, which puts us in a place of superiority and not a place of empathy.
- We enmesh, which puts us in a place of codependency and guilt.
One separates, and one hems us in. I tend toward the second. I let fear of confrontation, fear of separation, fear of abandonment, keep me from speaking truth appropriately and setting appropriate boundaries. I take others suffering and make it my own, which is really just selfish. I want them to feel better so that I feel better, and, instead of hastening comfort, I just postpone discomfort, making it much, much worse.
But the first can be just as dangerous. Pity can cause us, thinking we are cultivating an attitude of acceptance, to curdle compassion into resignation or indifference. Pity is a wedge where codependency is a choking bind. And both are entirely self-centered instead of other-centered, which is what compassion is in essence.
The gap is there for a reason. The train cannot run without the gap. But we can’t ignore its existence. And sometimes, the train has derailed and all attempts to leap the chasm have left both parties injured and apart. It happens. And it hurts.
And we feel angry with ourselves. We feel angry with others. We are resentful. We get hooked by anger.
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. “ Buddha
The other day at the gym I was complaining that my hip continues to hurt and that every attempt to do my normal workouts is resulting in more pain. My friend asked if I’ve been doing what the doctor told me to do. I looked sheepish. I complained, “But I don’t want to. I want to just get back to normal.” She said, “If you want to get better then you have to do the work. It’s YOUR life.”
Minding the gap in a healthy way means a new normal. There’s no going back. That is the way of pain. Sit with the damn feelings. Do the damn exercises. Let go of the resentment. Love people with true compassion. Love the expanse. And mind the damn gap! It's YOUR life.