Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Impermanence: First reflection

I had a brush with my past yesterday that's left me in a reflective mood about the impermanent nature of relationships. I used to think that as long as I remained committed to a relationship, it would last a lifetime. Unfortunately, I've often mistaken stubborn refusal to give up to be the equivalent of commitment, but I think I've been cured of that. AM hooked me on that word commitment. I've gotten a good glimpse of what stubborn and commitment will do to a person when that commitment is in no way mutual or healthy.

I'm in a new city, have been for a year now. Most of my closest friends are people I've known for less than a year. Until a year or so ago, I still had contact with my best friend from first grade through my early adulthood, but when it came time to update her with my new contact info after I left AM, I never managed to get it done. It's been years since we had anything in common to talk about. She grew distant after she learned that I, a woman, became a pastor, and being the stubborn one, determined not to give up on the relationship, I maintained contact for years, hoping someday my "commitment" to our friendship might persuade her to accept me. It never happened and something glorious in my changing understanding of commitment after all the heartache with AM freed me to let that relationship go too.

It leaves me in an odd place though. With the exception of my family, I have no regular contact with anyone who has known me for more than 9 years. That's hard to admit. Though I have new ways of framing it, I still worry that it is a reflection, somehow, on my character (or lack thereof) that I haven't managed to remain close to anyone from my past. That sense of failure is heightened by the reality that I am not close to anyone in my family, for essentially the same reasons that I have no contact with any friends from the early part of my life. With a record like that, it's hard not to assume it's my responsibility.

But the gift of the past few days is a new opening to accept the impermanence of relationships, a willingness to lay down the judge's gavel and open myself to a more freeing way of looking at what's happened. It's brought a lot of things into question for me. I don't know that there are a lot of answers yet, but there's a new sense of grace, I guess, that seems to permeate the way I'm looking at what has for years felt like failure. Here are some of the questions and thoughts I'm left with:
  • Where have I learned to place such high value on permanence in relationships, to assume that commitment means sticking it out no matter what?
  • Accepting impermanence doesn't mean assuming relationships will end, I think. It seems to me that it is probably more a shift in orientation toward the nature of all relationships. It's a surrendering of control over the outcome and an acceptance that change in the relationship is inevitable. Sometimes the change strengthens the relationship, deepens it. Sometimes it leads to separation. Sometimes it just means the relationship is different.
  • If impermanence is accepted as a reality and embraced as something to be valued, rather than dreaded or feared, how, then, does my understanding of important theological categories like reconciliation and unconditional love shift?
  • My experience is leaving me with the question, is there a love that remains constant through all those changes? I have some relationships that I've maintained throughout my lifetime, but I would hardly say they're characterized by unconditional love, a love that is constant, unwavering, that is able to accept me for me who I am.
  • And, ultimately, I guess I wonder if I'm capable of loving and accepting in a way that I long to be loved and accepted myself.


Katherine E. said...

What a wonderful post, Linda. So wonderful to read about the grace to let go that is filling you now.

You've made me want to reflect on all this myself. Hope that's OK.

I've been thinking about my job situation and the impact my leaving will have on the people here whom I love. Just today, in fact, I met with someone and was reminded about the importance of accepting my limitations. My love for these folks will remain, but it won't be constant. I guess you could say it will diminish with time--at least in a certain sense. I have to know that, despite the pain and loss, it's OK for these relationships to end at some point in the future. And keep reminding myself that constant love is the province of God.

I need to think about it all more, too.

I'm sure you're capable of love and acceptance, Linda. Your heart is huge! (Not sure where that question came from for you. ??)

Yankee T said...

WOW. Well, I imagine I have more to say on this than you want, so I'll try to cull it down.

To accept the impermanence of some relationships is vital to changing oneself. When you look back on where you were as a person for all those years, you were not really allowed (by yourself or your circumstances) to be who you ARE inside. I firmly believe that the friends you are making now, in your new life, your new faith, your new you-ness, will be friends that you will have forever. I always say, "do not confuse inertia with loyalty." Just because some people stick with other people forever, does not mean the friendship is good for anyone.
Yes, there is a love that can weather all storms-but it doesn't mean that your past surroundings have allowed you to form that kind of friendship yet. You are just becoming Linda. Be patient with yourself. I know that permanent friendships are forming for you right now, in your new life.
I wish you many, many of them. You deserve them. I think you're terrific.

SassyFemme said...

Remember that impermanence isn't always our fault. One person alone cannot sustain a friendship, or a relationship.

With our move less than two years ago we lost the relationship with the couple we thought were our best friends, of 12 years. Seems they couldn't forgive us for leaving and following our dreams. With our move half an hour away from a friend who's known me since I was five I thought we'd rekindle our now very casual friendship. Seems she's too busy to have time for friends that aren't parents of her kids' friends. I can only try so hard to keep up a friendship and offer invites before I stop trying. Do I wish I were closer to these friends? Sure I do, but at the same time, I'm not sure that it would be a genuine friendship.

I think Yankee T hit the nail on the head with "do not confuse inertia with loyalty."

JM said...

i had to go through this recently, and yankee T is right on with that line abt inertia. the person (you know this story) eventually contacted me and we sort of had it out and really, i feel totally "whatEVer" about it now. i didn't think I would. but I did.

now, to make this _not_ all about me, I can't really offer answers to the questions you posed (rather, believe me, you wouldn't want to hear mine) but I will just end this by saying I think you're AWESOME and people are dumb if they just let that go.

Songbird said...

In so many ways, you are a new person now. It's natural that your relationships with others and with yourself are changed by this emerging new self. Here at midlife, while I'm not recognizing or as in your case openly expressing an orientation that would come as a surprise to others, but I am peeling back layers slathered on to me both by the expectations of others and my response (terrified/cooperative/submissive/desperate) to those expectations. I am surprised, at times, by what I find. If I expect unconditional love, is that based on who I was, or on who I am?
You raise such good questions, as ever.