The Distance Between Us

Have you ever felt that to know someone, to know them, seems more than we can possibly do? Every person, plant, animal, every thing and not thing is a fragment of the Mystery, a fractal, made of the same stuff of which everything is made. If I cannot know “God” (however that concept is perceived and named) then by extension I cannot know you, and you cannot know me. Nor can we know ourselves. We are made of the same stuff that “God” is. We are made of mystery. Possibly our biggest error is to imagine that we know someone, or that we can, or should.

I have partnered friends who sleep in the same bed every night and eat at the same table every day who will tell you for sure that they barely know the other. They ever ponder the mystery of their partner with interest, affection and sometimes obvious frustration. A simple truth generally finally emerges regarding the distances between us.

Maybe the highest respect we give another is to make sincere effort to get to know them, while at the same time being careful to suspend assumptions that the mind creates about who that person is. Revelation is continuous. Even science, with its observations of laws and patterns in nature, learns to stay open to the “what is not yet revealed” along with that which appears to be provable.

For reasons I can’t explain, I find myself thinking of this very much in the last weeks. Possibly it is due to my Mother’s death, realizing how indeed I didn’t know her really nor did she know me, though the depth of our love and respect for one another was as deep and as wide as the sky. How little I know the wonders that are my two sisters, even though they are the most familiar beings on the planet to me, known longer and closer than any others. The love relationships I have had — though the love was real, what I do not know of these beings is infinitely vaster than anything I do know of them.

Maybe as humans we are similar to the stars seen in the night sky. To the eye stars appear to be neighboring or in clusters, yet we know that infinite distances exist between them. Even so they are irrevocably in relationship to one another, connected dynamically.

Who but my oft-quoted soul friend Rilke would have the words to help me with this. These passages I recovered recently while looking with my daughter for readings for her wedding. In the wonderful little book Love and Other Difficulties, Rilke writes:

It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow…  Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against the wide sky!

In my heart I know that Love – (and I will complain about our wretched poverty in the English language that there is only one word to express this idea, without differentiation between its many meanings and references) – Love makes all distances null and void, fluid, other than anything they seem. To feel and know love is to be the infinite spaces and all the things it contains, all at once. However to manifest that love is the Great Work, the work as Rilke says, “for which all other work is but preparation.” “Convention,” he wrote” has tried to make this most complicated and ultimate relationship into something easy and frivolous, has given it the appearance of everyone’s being able to do it. It is not so. Love is something difficult.”

Love is to unite two “wide, deep, individual worlds.” The solitude that we protect for ourselves and each other helps us to explore and develop those worlds. I remember learning while studying alchemy that “Only separated things can unite.” The distances between us, acknowledged and respected with consciousness, create this possibility.

There is a loneliness inherent in our situation. But I believe once this reality is seen for what it is, the pain of loneliness will transform to something of awe, curiosity and a compelling beauty. I am feeling this now.




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