I just ran into a boy I used to care for. It seemed like we were about to commit to one another, but we weren't, and our relationship faded away seamlessly.
Seamless, except for the occasionally stark pain that hits the pit of my stomach when I think about, that makes the routes that I regularly walk feel like they're haunted by his ghost, the lingering feeling of rejection.
We'd seen each other the day before and hadn't said anything. I'd seen him from afar, I mean, but looked away embarrassed, not sure whether it was him or not. He must have seen me too, but I don't know how he reacted, since I was pointedly not looking at him.
The next day, we couldn't avoid each other. We walked right past each other. We stopped and greeted each other amiably. He made a comment, I rambled about it. I asked him a question, he answered it painfully. We quickly said goodbye.
This painting is called "Conversation of Clowns"
so it seemed to embody the spirit of that conversation. Hahaha
It felt awful. I spent the next several minutes thinking about it, contrasting it with the last time we had run into each other--how he seemed so much less interested in asking about me this time, how we didn't feel like people who had ever been special to each other. He must hate me now, I thought. That's why he never talks to me anymore, even when he could. It was horrible, imagining how poorly he must think of me now.
I went back to what I was doing, but kept thinking about it. It was a day when bearing the burdens of others was on my mind, and I remembered without trying this story from Man's Search for Meaning that had saved me in a similar situation years before:
Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how can I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”
“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office.
Breaking up is not the same as dying, by any means. But in this case, it could be considered even more complex, because death leaves only one of the two on earth to mourn; breaking up leaves two.
Yet this little story has helped me more than anything to be compassionate.
What would have happened, Rachel, if you had decided to end it, instead of him?
Oh, I reply in my mind. For him this would have been terrible; how he would have suffered!
And then I realize that the price of sparing him that suffering is that I must bear it. Which I will gladly do, because the love in my heart is still there, and this allows it to be put to good use.
And then, when I begin to consider his suffering and not just my own, it is like discovering the world in 3 dimensions instead of just 2. And I realize that here is an entire human being with stimuli and reasons and pressures for doing things, with expectations for himself, and with hopes dashed, and with dreams and responsibilities. Who has had a life experience with me that has affected him, just as it has affected me.
Then when I think of our tiny, strained interaction, I think about how we all just do what we can. How most of his thoughts have nothing to do with me, just as most of mine have nothing to do with him. And how it was nice to be close to him for a little while.