What a couple of days.
Yesterday was a long travel day. I got into Boston after 11 hours of travel, and a near-miss connection in DC. The first and longest flight was full, and I was in a middle seat between two men, one of whom was perfectly polite, and the other of whom kept invading my space as he played games on his computer, touching my arm every time he swiped the screen. After a 5-minute internal struggle with my social programming, I told him that I was squished into the area of my seat and I wanted him to stop touching me. He did stop. Keeping myself within the bounds of my middle seat meant that I was tight and uncomfortable from somewhat contorted positions, and I was quite grateful to get off that plane.
When I finally got to the hotel where I have been sharing a room with my dear and old friend R, it was 1 am and I was exhausted. Nonetheless, given that it’s been 8 years since we last saw each other, we stayed up for another hour and a half talking. We got up a few hours later to go to our friend’s funeral.
Two of our friends picked us up this morning, and we headed out to the park where the event was to be held. We were the first people there, and other groups filtered in over the next 45 minutes or so, and there was quite a bit of conversation and reconnection, introductions and re-introductions that happened in the hour or more before the ceremony actually took place.
Many of us hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. In some instances it took a minute to recognize each other. It is amazing to me, though, how people’s essences stay the same, how a voice can be so immediately recognizable and familiar, not just to the ear but to the heart, regardless of changes in physical appearance.
There was a feeling of warmth and connection, a general mutual welcomingness that permeated the group. There is an element of shared tribe: many of the friends of B who were there are alums of my college, and we tend to share a certain style, set of values, interests, energy. But one major element was the way in which we were all just so happy to see each other, and to be there to help each other say goodbye to B.
Then, for me personally there was the added joy of seeing particular friends whom I haven’t seen in person in years and years, and having an opportunity to refresh, renew, update those friendships with who and where I and they are now.
One thing that has become very clear to me lately is how much time in my life I have spent in a pursuit of love from people who are unavailable, or not a good fit for me. My childhood programming laid the foundation for that pattern, and it persisted through most of the first four decades of my life. I have often felt very lonely, and have at various times realized after the fact that there were people and relationships available to me that I just didn’t see, or ran away from because of fear.
I grieve the lost opportunities for connection, but I have also learned to have compassion for myself, to recognize that I wasn’t able to do more than I was capable of at the time. And I have also learned to observe when I am looking at the world in black and white and seeing only two choices at the extreme ends of the spectrum, to see that genuine connection is possible right now, in my present, and that my mistakes, missteps, unhelpful patterns of the past do not mean that I cannot do something different now.
I am done with the cycle of need/expectation/pursuit/disappointment. That cycle is fundamentally based in a lack of self-love. For so long, what other people thought of me (or my projection of what I thought they thought of me) was far more important to me than what I thought of them, or what I thought of myself. And I sometimes didn’t value love that came freely. I was so used to banging on the gates in desperation.
I am done with that. It holds no appeal now. That is not to say that I don’t or won’t slip up. Old patterns often have a lot of power, and it’s easy to fall back into them.
But today, seeing friends with whom I share mutual affection and appreciation delighted me, filled my heart. Tonight R and I talked for many hours, filling each other in on some years of history, but also talking about what it means to love. I think I am finally getting at a deeper level that when love is intertwined with disrespect, contempt, or destructiveness, the existence of love cannot excuse, remediate, or justify the latter. Love from another can support and encourage, but healing has to come from within. And love delivered without integrity and respect is toxic.
This is not to say that relationships must be perfect or they’re necessarily shit. To be human is to be flawed. But I think that the ability and willingness of each participant to self-reflect with honesty is a key ingredient for any healthy relationship. And love is a verb. The feeling is important, powerful. But it is not sufficient.
Looping back to the afternoon’s ceremony, various people spoke, and we read some of B’s poetry. Hearing from people from different parts of her life was wonderful and painful. Then we went to the shore, where her partner scattered her ashes and flowers in the sea.
After everyone else had left, R and I stayed for a while, sitting on a bench and looking at the cloud of ash in the water. I felt a great reluctance to turn and walk away. I have been remembering B’s softness and warmth of body and spirit, and I really struggled with the contrast between my memory and sense of her and the contents of the small box of what remained of her body. I couldn’t reconcile the two. And yet, sitting with R, I could imagine B sitting there with us on my other side, could so easily imagine us all cuddled together looking out to sea. I didn’t want to just get up and move on, move away.
Eventually, we did rejoin the group, the sense of togetherness a balm. And later, the four of us who had arrived at the park in the morning came back to our hotel and went for a swim, being together, being friends, loving one another. And then it was down to R and me.
And now R is asleep and I’m writing this.
I want to finish the evening by extending love to B, to celebrate her life and her love, and to thank her for all she brought to mine and so many others’. I’ll remember her softness and compassion, and keep it in my heart. She was human and flawed, human and gifted. Thank you, B.