Sunday, March 18, 2007
Someone wrote and asked me yesterday if I preferred to have people in my life the way I remembered them before their lives, circumstances and choices made them what they are today. She wrote: "Do you really want to know [them] as they are now or back when . . . they were well adjusted to life as it should be?"
The one certainty in life is change. It's a constant process. It's the water that wears away the stone of the mountain until it no longer stands. Nothing stays the same, least of all people. But it is the belief that things were better before and if no one had lived and changed they would be more worth knowing. That is so wrong.
Even a person in stasis changes; they just change slower. I'm talking about the science fiction idea of the use of cryogenics in long space voyages, but it's still true. Beards and hair and nails grow and cells live and change and die--slowly but still they change. We change. Caught in our dreams, locked into a long sleep we live a twilight existence processing information from everything around us into dreams. (I think there is a story there)
When did it become the ideal to want things as they were? We live and change, not always for the better, and we hope those we meet and get to know will accept us even though we are no longer bright and young and barely touched by life.
This goes back to what I said before about relationships being a two-way street and the first date mentality of putting your best foot forward. Acquaintances are not relationships and sooner or later the mask slips and the real person emerges. People are the sum of their existence and to know only a small portion of that equation is not to know the truth, not to know the person. You cannot every know everything about a person because there are too many seconds and minutes and hours between birth and now to know all of it. Locked up in our minds are all that time but we don't really remember every bit of it, only those bits that we take out and handle and look at over and over. And memory can be jogged.
I don't expect people to be perfect. I'm certainly not. I hope people will be real and not hide their mistakes and choices like a naughty child who accidentally broke a window or a lamp and doesn't want to be punished. The child knows how it feels to be spanked or yelled at and doesn't want to hurt or feel ostracized because of a mistake, so the child lies. "I don't know what happened." All too often we treat the people around us the same way any time they make a mistake or reveal a flaw, punishing them instead of understanding them. We are all too used to the feeling of punishment and we avoid it, even to the point of backing away from someone who loves us because we're afraid they won't understand--or worse yet, that they will--and won't want to be around us any more. Fear of being accepted makes us push others away, clinging to the idea that the others will be better off without us because we cannot live up to their idea of us. We fear seeing the light go out in their eyes when they look at us or that they will turn away, so we take away the opportunity and leave them with questions we can't--or won't--answer.
As I've said many times, I'm not perfect. I've made bad choices and questionable choices and even some good choices (for me). I have lived--and changed. Each new obstacle and pain and setback and situation is like water wearing down the mountain. I look at the scars on my body and wish they weren't there, that I still had the smooth unblemished skin of youth, but each of those scars is a story of where I've been and how I've lived, tales of birth and death and pain and so much more. Right now I am the sum total of my experiences and I hide none of them. I have been petty and I have been magnanimous. I have hurt and I have loved. I have known and embraced life. Take one experience, one moment from the sum total of my life and I am no longer me. I become someone else.
Someone once said that by making mistakes we learn how to make things right. I've said that we learn more by our mistakes than by doing everything right. It's hard to learn tolerance if you've never experience intolerance. It's hard to understand what someone goes through when they choose abortion or giving up a child. It's hard to understand anything if you haven't lived it.
I'm not afraid to face my mistakes or to stand waiting judgment for them. I want people to know who and what I am. I don't hide my mistakes or my triumphs or even the endless march of days and months when nothing happened. I already know someone as they were before life happened. I want to know who and what they are now that the water has worn away the edges and given them a new shape and a different perspective. I may not understand everything someone has been through but I'm willing to listen and learn, but more importantly to understand. There is nothing so horrible, no mistake so awful that I would turn away from a friend--or even a stranger. Flaws are much more interesting than bland perfection. Don't you think?
Children are fascinating. It's when they crawl or take a step or speak a full sentence or change in any way that they become interesting. It isn't their innocence but the constant visible change that awes and engages us--even when they break a window or a vase.