My family recently went through a challenging stretch. There were losses and misunderstandings, which made for a bumpy ride.
There is no right way to walk through pain. We all scale the mountains of life in our own style. My tendency is to spend more time alone. During this particular period of challenge, however, I decided to walk it differently. I needed support, and so I reached out to a number of people and shared my family's struggles. Interestingly, through the act of sharing I learned a valuable lesson about relationship, not so much in the responses I received but in what transpired afterward.
A couple months have now passed since this period of difficulty, and I have seen or run into most of those with whom I shared my situation. What has proven most striking in these subsequent encounters is an absence -- the absence of any mention of what I spoke of just a couple months before. The subsequent meetings began with "What's new?" or "How's it going?" and continued on that track. While often lovely in their own right, these encounters, oddly, contained no trace of what came before. In defense of this absence, some say, "If you are not in that state of mind, they probably don't want to take you back to something upsetting." Others mistakenly describe this kind of interaction as "very Zen." Regardless of how we explain it, continuity as a practice seems to have been discontinued.
Interestingly, it was a woman with whom I am not especially close who forced this issue to the foreground of my attention. I had run into her at our local grocery store on an exceptionally bad day, a day when I really needed support. She asked how I was and I told her the truth. At the time, she listened, was kind, and offered some helpful guidance. It wasn't what happened in that interaction that struck me so intensely, but rather what happened a month later. We ran into each other again and she began the conversation with "Are things any better with your family? Did your husband get that job?" When she asked me those simple but very specific questions, tears came to my eyes.
Similarly, I recently started a conversation with a friend by asking how her daughter was feeling, essentially picking up the conversation from where we had left off the previous month (when she had shared that her daughter was depressed). This friend, whom I have known for years, thanked me for remembering that her daughter was depressed, and then thanked me again for inquiring about how she was doing.
Have we become so distracted and disconnected that we now have to thank each other for basic kindness, as if remembering what another is living is somehow an extra service and not an integral part of relationship? Continuity is not just the rain that feeds the tree of friendship but the very tree itself.
While it might not be locusts, we are indeed living a modern plague -- the plague of disconnection. But how can we feel connected, I wonder, when we have abandoned continuity. Continuity IS connection. Continuity requires memory. Unfortunately however, we seem no longer willing or able to remember much of anything.
These days, conversations appear out of virtual space, with no memory or history, and disappear back into the ether. Nothing remains. Is it too much work to remember the people with whom we are relating and what they are living? Are we so overwhelmed and bombarded with information that we have no more room for even the details of others' lives? Have the words that a friend shares with us become just another round of the app, "words with friends," something to entertain us for a few minutes until the next distraction arrives?
The result of this kind of continuity-less interaction is loneliness. Without continuity, we feel isolated, like no one is really in our lives with us, holding a piece of us even when we are apart. So too, continually beginning again and again makes the act of relating exhausting. It becomes our burden to recreate and reinsert our selves into the relationship that we believed already contained us, like getting a boat out of a windless harbor with each new encounter. Most importantly, without continuity, the feeling of being known -- the distinguishing feature of friendship and connection -- is forsaken. We are only known for what we decide to share on that particular day. The container for the friendship is discarded after each use, like a plastic wrapper.
The antidote to disconnection is continuity. If we want to experience more connection in our relationships and life in general, we must make the effort to remember and inquire about the specifics of the lives of those around us, to pick up where we left off the last conversation. Continuity is a choice, and one that profoundly transforms not only the lives of those with whom we come in contact, but our own life as well!
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