As I’ve hit the middle of my middle-age, I’ve been confronted more and more often with the evidence that the people in our lives don’t know who we are. Not really.
I was struck again by this realization when I attended the memorial/celebration-of-life for one of the principals at my former company. He was a generous, patient and exceptional leader, one of those rare personalities who put his soul into how he conducted both himself and how he conducted his business.
The celebration was hardly celebratory. Most of us were too wrecked with the loss and uncertainty caused by his passing. We all sat there with our separate, fragmented memories of him and what he meant to each of us, and we attempted to share those recollections as a kind of check on who we believed him to be.
The picture we collectively created was incomplete, and it always will be incomplete. The only person who knows my now passed former coworker is him. And even so….
When we ourselves pass, and our mourners are gathered, they will remember, and they will likely remember wrong. Or more generously, they will remember parts of us and not the cohesive whole.
My (forever) cursory study of Tibetan Buddhism tells me that our interior lives are often unknowable to us; we have thoughts and we have feelings but we are not the sum of those thoughts and feelings. Like anyone who has attempted to monitor and to even influence my less than stellar behavior, I’ve learned that with practice there is a self (whether it’s a large S or small s is up for debate) who sits behind our thoughts and feelings. A smarter, wiser self who drives the bus.
Most of my friends and family, however, know me only by the outward expressions of my thoughts and feelings. They see only what I project, express, convey.
This isn’t wrong, per se, but it’s not right, either.
A couple months back, I wanted to connect with my life-long friends over my disdain for the Hallmark holiday that is Father’s Day. Even as a father myself, I hate that day. I was feeling pressured to contact the man who inhabits the shell of my dad, and I blurted out via text message how I hoped that I was a better father, how I needed to believe that I am a better father, even if I’m not. The stupid, made-up day is fraught with doubts and guilt about my own performance as a parent, and it’s fraught with these pangs of loss about how I still don’t have my own father in my life and how I never will.
It was heavy. Too heavy for text message.
I realized after the fact that these friends have no context with which to help me. Hitting them with something so powerful as my perpetual disappointment in the man who originally left my life when I was six years old is too much. I can’t help but feel cheated, though, that other men couldn’t or wouldn’t understand the depth of betrayal that abandonment causes, how that betrayal hits you perpetually as both son and then again as father.
Maybe it’s just too much to ask that others know who we are. Not just what we’ve done but why we’ve done the things that we’ve done. I don’t necessarily know the inner truths of other people, either.
We all have our stories – the version we’ve lived and the version we tell. In our rush to be heard, we often forget that we have to listen, we have to listen more often than we talk, in order to allow people to tell of who they are, what they are, why they are. Perhaps if we’re lacking connection, listening to others is the only way we can eventually hear ourselves.