What do we do here? In this place where both of us feel like weâ€™ve reached the outer boundaries of love---when really the only boundary weâ€™ve reached is the perimeter of our own large egos. The tool box is locked, and the delicate wrenches of kindness are inside.
In our culture itâ€™s easy to interpret â€œsuccessful relationshipâ€ to mean â€œeffortless.â€ Friction doesnâ€™t fit the definition weâ€™re so often fed: the quick Hollywood snapshots of couples walking hand in hand, laughter always on the lips. Hurtâ€”-that parabola formed at the intersection of anger and loneliness and loss---does not belong to the stereotypical shape of affection. And yet we find it here, close to us, filling the space between us, even though we are in love.
We feel terror seeping in, the moment we go beyond whatâ€™s comfortable. What if we canâ€™t recover? What if the words weâ€™re saying are really the basis of regret or unraveling? What if we canâ€™t rebuild, continue, grow? Now in the heat and silence, there are large gaps between us as we look away, staring at the slope of the gabled eaves, the shelves organized with shoes and belts.
Why are we here? Away from everyone, this unventilated room is the only place where we can fight tonight with no one hearing. But really, why are we here, in the middle of this place, exchanging oxygen for anger? Because we are unskilled and unpracticed in this kind of action. Few share this part of the journey; when the rubble strewn mess of for-granted and regret collide.
We ache in this small space, trapped by our egos, and our inability to really reach beyond ourselves and meet the other. Shame drenches us, and makes us stubborn. In the balance of things we keep believing a loss of face is somehow greater than a loss of love.
So suddenly weâ€™re there, at the breaking point. Youâ€™re walking away from me, too tightly wound, and Iâ€™ve given you nothing for everything youâ€™ve tried to say. Youâ€™re starving but somehow I canâ€™t offer you any bread of apology. Iâ€™ve taken yours and thrown it to the sparrows.
You stand to walk away, and as you do I finally break open, no longer caring about being heard or being right or being sad. The brittle shell around my heart breaks all apart and with the greatest effort I say it. Like Atlas lifting an entire world, I strain under the burden of my own weakness.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ I say, â€œFor not giving you an inch.â€ Your body turns slightly, and you smile, just a little. Then we try again.
We do not know how to fight this way: one to one, face to face, navigating the battle map of our hearts, and this is our cultural loss. Personal conflict is always locked behind closed doors, a thing of shame. Weâ€™re taught never to talk about our familyâ€™s heartbreak, about the endless ways we hurt each other, and recover.
Yet all around us conflict is glorified in external ways. The media is saturated with constant acts of aggression. And we hardly stop to think about this lesson we teach our children, generation after generation. I canâ€™t help but wonder if there isnâ€™t a link between our failure to share the unmarked maps of our personal conflicts with our children, and our failure as a culture to live together peacefully in the world. Each generation grows up just as unskilled as the last, in matters of the heart. Each generation encountering itâ€™s own inadequacy in understanding how the mystery of loosing and winning, of giving and receiving, of selfishness and selflessness is contained within the greater mystery of love. Could we do better than this for our children?
Everything is at stake in the moment I reach beyond the brittleness of myself. And when you turn back, that smile quivering at the very edges of your lips, weâ€™ve made it to the other side.
But it takes both of us to move ahead. Waving a white flag of apology does nothing by itself. Too often you say those words trying to end the strife before itâ€™s started, before we feel ourselves raw and exposed, on the operating table of each otherâ€™s mercy. Too often, you say â€œIâ€™m sorryâ€ before either of us know what weâ€™re really talking about, before we reach what matters buried beneath what matters less. It takes great effort and great risk to keep talking beyond apology, beyond blame, beyond embitterment, without walking away.
We stay. And now at the breaking point, we hover like surgeons, over the open wound of our growing love, attempting at once to remove the malignancy and repair the damage. We are untrained and clumsy, yet our effort counts for something, and after hours of this mess, we are sitting together on the bed. Your arms are around my shoulders, my hand traveling the contour of your knee. We are through the worst of it: through the time of where transfusions were needed, where openness needs to replace bitterness, and the chances of survival depended not on how much we were willing to loose, but on how much we were willing to give.
Now I write, because writing does something alchemical to experience; transforming it from a blur of things merely felt, to something better understood. I write so that I can rememberâ€”so that we can remember; my words bearing witness to the things we hardly ever say (that hardly anyone ever says), that are, in the end, the words that matter most.