Together, But Separate
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Together, But Separate • Posted: Jul 14, 2013 10:58:25Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Have you ever noticed the various ways two people can be together?

Garrison Keillor does a recurring bit on his radio show Prairie Home Companion over National Public Radio (NPR). It's usually a phone conversation, first between a mother and her grown son, and then between the grown son and his father. The premise is family ritual: we used to eat dinner together. Now we live apart, so we talk over the phone. The frequency is not often enough for the mother in the skit, but it is far too often for the son. The father participates, but couldn't care less. The squirming of the son and manipulations by the mother provide amusement. Contrast with the father provides a measure of how outrageously distorted the mother/son relationship has become. We laugh, but we also know that it is all too true. Ritual is not the best basis for a relationship. Still, we often rely on it without facing up to the reality that our relationships have become devoid of meaningful substance.

What do I mean by "substance"? Have you ever watched two close grade-school chums come together again after being apart for a while, say over a long weekend? It's like they can't hold back from spilling every detail of everything meaningful to each other that has happened over the time they've been apart. Everything has to be related and thoroughly absorbed as if before it evaporates and is lost forever. Now that is meaningful substance.

On the other hand, there are pairs of people who, when they come together, sparks fly. Neither is interested in absorbing the other. Rather, the opposite. They want to annihilate each other, erase everything the other represents. But oddly, that too is a relationship built on substance.

There is also a third way people maintain meaningful substance in their relationship. They develop a kind of mutual interdependence or symbiosis. It's as if they each become part of something that is both of them. In a sense, they are connected as if they were two parts of the same brain. They work together. They divide tasks. They coordinate separate and differing activities, perhaps with discussion but without arguing, so that some bigger thing comes together. And then, they share equally in the fruits of their combined effort. They don't manipulate each other, badger each other, or attempt to lord over each other. Instead, they work together like left leg and right leg, carrying each other forward without tripping each other up.

How aware are you of the kind of relationships you have with others? Are you like the two school chums trying to maintain a mind meld? Or, are you at odds with those around you, wishing with venom dripping from your teeth they'd die off sooner than later? Or, perhaps, you are more like that mother in the Garrison Keillor skit, always trying to manipulate others to your personal advantage. Or, maybe, you've found a relationship or two that functions more like that third type, that type wherein you seem to be part of something that makes use of who you are and what you can do without deleterious exploitation, but that brings you both rewards and meaningful satisfactions for your efforts.

May we all find a better path toward meaningful substance within our relationships.

Saturday, July 11th, 2009