January 4, 2013

What Others Leave For You To Keep

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What is the issue?

There are others. More than you can comprehend. They’re everywhere you go and you’ll meet some of them.

Some of these other people will naturally establish themselves as an apparent fixture in your life, and change how life looks to you. This is called a relationship. If the person stays around for months or years, your relationship with them might begin to feel permanent.

It’s not. Relationships are conditions, not things. They all have to end at some point. But they will leave something behind for you to keep.

There are different kinds, different styles of rapport between you and The Other: polite, uneasy, romantic, platonic, confusing. We tend to slot them into distinct types — friendships, courtships, marriages, business partnerships — but they’re all fundamentally the same thing. Two people overlap, experience each other’s thoughts and ideas, absorb each other’s values, and learn from each other’s stories. Personalities leak into other people when those people get close enough.

This happens all the time, and it is always temporary. The overlap comes to an end and the parties diverge and drift away. It could be after 72 hours of traveling together, or after a summer internship working together, or after 55 years of marriage. If nothing else ends it, death will.

This means that life is essentially a solo trip. You’ll have this endless parade of visitors, though, which is nice. Characters you couldn’t have imagined will appear, stay for a minute or maybe a few months or maybe many years, and then leave you to your trip.

Welcome visitors, as a general rule. Their purpose is to aid the solo traveler in figuring out how to enjoy the world.

Most people will enter and exit your life without your noticing much. Some of them will make a big splash though. Some visitors will be decidedly special. You’ll know.

The most valuable experience a person can have is an overlap with this kind of person. The defining characteristic of one of these people is that they make it impossible for you to remain the same person by the time they make their exit.

Each one of these people, by the time your paths diverge, will have changed you in a way that is evident to others who know you.

You probably will not recognize quite what’s happening at the time. You will feel something though. The feeling of windows opening.

However this particular overlap goes, whatever experiences it’s made of, ecstatic ones or awful ones — a few months or years down the road, you’re different. You’re better. Something that was hard is now easy, something that was daunting is now familiar, something you were once skeptical about you now love.

You will be left with some beliefs you didn’t have before. You will value certain things more than you did, and other things less than you did.

Maybe you’ve never thought about it, but you’ve had this happen to you, several times by now. It will happen again and again. You have no idea who is on their way to meet you. They have no idea either.

At any given moment, any time, any day of your existence, you can look at your whole life as a vast collection of experiences, and recognize that all of it adds up exactly to who you’ve become today. Who you became depended — to a degree you may never appreciate — on who you happened to run into while you were out in the world doing your thing. You could have been so many different people.

All relationships are temporary. They change form and texture as time passes, and they eventually go.

If it’s been a special one — with a lover, an important teacher, a parent — its absence can be a heavy one. Almost tangible. You can feel the presence of their absence. The Other is gone. An empty desk, an unused pillow, an open doorway with no one standing in it.

But you’re still there, and you’re better than you were. TC mark

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