Friday, May 23, 2008

The Gift of Being Seen

These reflections might well become so tangled up as to be, not just useless, but indicative that I am in need of some serious help. We'll have to see. The unrelated thoughts that started me down this road are these...

We had a memorial service at work yesterday for the people who died. I met and expressed the traditional condolences to one of the families. I was talking to the sister of the deceased. The thing she didn't know is that I didn't know her brother. She of course assumed that I did, and there was no reason at all to correct her. The point is that I didn't deserve her effusive praise of our efforts to save her brother. "You knew him. You understood him. You SAW the real him", she said. I have every confidence that the shelter staff who did know him did exactly that.

And what a gift that must have been for a person most people not only overlook but exert effort not to see. The seeing would have been a quiet thing, with no fanfare or announcements of "I see you and know you to be a valuable person. Surely your life will henceforth be changed." It was more of a quiet "namaste" -the divine light in me honors the divine light in you."

So we have quiet, profound seeing -or envisioning, to make it sound more important- and that allows a person to name their own dignity, perhaps.

The second thing that happened is that I realized a few days ago that I had to work hard to be as deceived as I have been about my marriage. Effort had to be expended in order NOT to see the data that were right in front of me. Which doesn't make the demise of the marriage or the deception my fault, but I did more than make it easy for him. I helped. The bone-chilling thought that occured to me is that my efforts might have been so intense that I missed his betrayal of the kids. What if he betrayed his fatherly role as profoundly as his husbandly role? Since "Oh he would never do that" has fallen completely out of my vocabulary, I felt like I had to ask. I didn't so much want to know what Dave had done, but what I had done. Had I failed to see something that was vitally important? (The answer seems to be no, thank all that is holy.) I'm not sure I could have recovered -or that the kids could have- from such a spectacular failure of vision on my part.

They both report, by the way, that they never talk about important things with their dad. He sends them money -which he can do and I can't, so that's a good thing. But how is he ever going to see them as interesting and nuanced individuals if they don't talk about important things? But I'm trying not to own that sadness. It isn't mine. The point is that questioning and listening to the answers ought to be an important part of the kind of seeing that can help a person become their most authentic self.

And finally, I'm wondering if Dave and I failed so spectacularly to see each other that we actually lost sight of our own identities. I certainly lost mine. I had to work so hard to be the person I thought he would like -and he didn't like her either, as it turns out- that the real me just plain wandered off. Is being authentically seen part of knowing who we are? You have to claim the real version of yourself and act on it. You have to allow the authentic vision of the other person. And those two things are intertwined in some way that I haven't figured out yet.

So, if I'm on the right track, authentically seeing someone is a life-changing gift that involves:
quiet reflection
questioning
listening
acting
allowing
-and probably more reflection just to round things out. And besides, it's just good to know that there's someone who knows how you take your coffee. Someone has noticed that you're on the planet. That's not nothing.

4 comments:

Michael said...

The corollary there is that those things are also needed in order authentically seeing (and being) oneself. In what may (or may not) be a coincidence, I was reading the following last night in Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation:

"Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity ...On the contrary, humility consists in being precisely the person you actually are before God, and since no two people are alike, if you have the humility to be yourself you will not be like anyone else in the whole universe. But this individuality will not necessarily assert itself on the surface of everyday life. It will not be a matter of mere appearances, or opinions, or tastes, or ways of doing things. It is something deep in the soul" (pp. 98-99).

"And so it takes heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody but the man, or the artist, that God intended you to be.

"You will be made to feel that your honesty is only pride. This is a serious temptation because you can never be sure whether you are being true to your true self or only building up a defense for the false personality that is the creature of your own appetite for esteem.

"But the greatest humility can be learned from the anguish of keeping your balance in such a position: of continuing to be yourself without getting touch about it and without asserting your false self against the false selves of other people.

"Perfection is not something you can acquire like a hat--by walking into a place and trying on several and walking out again ten minutes later with one on your head that fits" (pp. 100-101).

So the good news is that you're starting the process of shedding a false self and hunting for the reality that lies beneath it. And you know the techniques that you'll need to do that work.

The bad news, of course, is that it's not going to be easy, or particularly pleasant. And that you're really going to have to work at it. But there will be people around who will help with that and, ultimately, it's better to be who you really are. At least then you don't have to work quite so hard remembering which lies you told to which people at what time. And you don't have to waste time beating yourself up about lying to them in the first place.

Michael said...

Hrm. Strike "order" in that first sentence there. I guess I started out with one construction and then switched grammar in mid-sentence.

I just hate it when that happens!

Anonymous said...

I am Terry McBrien's sister. I just want to thank you for the kind words. There are many out there that would just push him under the carpet and never give him another thought.

Again ......THANK YOU!!!!!!

Diana McBrien

Anonymous said...

I used to say jokingly (and oh, so truthfully) that I couldn't see the handwriting on the wall. . . because it was so big.

Martin Smith says that the definition of an intimate conversation is one where you do not know how it will end. Think about it. If that is really scary, you are wearing armor and guiding those conversations. Armor may be protective, but as he says, "It keeps you from being hurt . . . and from being held." The "being held" part can be momentous. As painful as it is, dropping the armor will bring you a freedom that is wonderful.