“Difference that Makes a Difference”
Previous Next Random Photo
“Difference that Makes a Difference” • Posted: Sep 28, 2023 16:04:12Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

My ex died recently. My son was there to press the button that rolled her into the cremator. “She looked beautiful”, he reports. I was not present. Not something she would have wanted. He’d spent most of the last three months by her side in hospital as she writhed in pain from injuries that began with a fall she’d taken. She never has handled pain well. Her birthing my son was agony for her, and likely heralded the beginning of the end for our marriage. But ever since our divorce, when he was ten, he’s had a kind of sympathetic protective attitude toward her that has continued to this day. I’ve never objected, but I did worry. That relationship has taken somewhat of a toll on him over the years. I’ve actually been surprised at how well he has endured her attempts at jerking him this way and that, just as her mother did to her. I think it was his sympathy for her that buttressed his endurance of her. And, over the years, his wisdom at tactfully countering her frequent overtly hostile irrationality has grown, at the same time helping him develop into a very substantial socially competent adult. That he has never abandoned their relationship in favor of his own mental health has proven good for her also. He became a huge source of pride for her, bolstering her own self-esteem and reason for being. I’m absolutely certain his presence at her side these last few months afforded her great comfort and peace of mind beyond the debilitating pain she endured. I shudder to imagine her thoughts and feelings if he hadn’t been there for her.

All this has prompted me to recall and re-ponder something that has been with me for a very long time, since just before I entered university. I’d put off college for six years after high school. I just didn’t see the point. I was much more interested in doing photojournalism, being in and out of all kinds of social goings on at a time of huge social upheaval involving civil rights, race relations, feminism, heterosexuality, homosexuality, war, environmental concerns, political fights, agitating popular music, the social acceptance of drug use, and my own youthful angst over making life choices. I continually found myself wondering: Just what is being alive all about these days? The answer I imagined had to be out there on the streets within the lives of real people. But in the end, I was overwhelmed. I saw. I photographed. I even wrote. But, I really didn’t have any productive way to cognitively process and make sense of all I was seeing, much less apply what I imagined I’d learned to my own life. What I eventually hit upon was a kind of theory that information and the communication of information were keys to understanding everything biologically and psychologically important to the mesmerizing mystery of what being human was all about in this day and age. That thought was perhaps naive and overly reductionist, but at least I had a working hypothesis of sorts. And so, I decided to go back to school with the specific purpose of investigating the validity of that theory.

Near the end of my nearly four years of study, I met the woman I was to marry and eventually divorce. She was studying to be a nurse, a labor and delivery nurse. She was gung-ho, but pissed she’d been discouraged from pursuing her aspirations of becoming a doctor. In microcosm, she embodied every desire, passion, and contradiction I’d ever witnessed while out on the streets making photographs. To my eyes, she was beautiful. I fell both in love and in fascination with her. We had endless talks about everything, both critical and speculative. And eventually, we made plans. The only problem, as it turned out, was me. I proved mostly not up to the task of making all of her personal elaborations upon our plans actually come true. I had this way of seeing equivalences and complementations that she far too often either failed to see or completely discounted. For instance, in choosing a car to buy, for her it had to be both reliable and cheap. But for me, it could be reliable and inexpensive to run and maintain, but also fun to drive and a pleasure to own. To her, those last two attributes were both irrelevant and an irritation. If I acquiesced, she would demonstrably lose respect for me. If she felt she needed to acquiesce, she marked that down as reason to distrust and eventually dislike me. Her unrelenting grudges built and built. All that, of course, was deeply disorienting for me, because I’d come to believe that accurate information and clear communication could nearly always yield mutually beneficial accommodation. But apparently, not with her. And so, our marriage problems began and continued to escalate over the years. Her issues with pain and its causes were yet another manifestation of that same issue for her. To her, the world, me included, just did not measure up to her expectations.

I was so thrown back into those same issues recently that I decided to look up the term “information” in Wikipedia to see what was currently being said and discussed on the topic. Interestingly, I ran across an old friend in doing so. Not really a personal friend, but a scholar whose thinking and work I’d admired back at university, Gregory Bateson. His words as to a definition for the term “information”, offered with somewhat mischievous intent, appear in the title above. Those same words brought a smile to my recently stressed and concerned face. Humor, when we can see it, is so very very necessary to finding common ground between our so very error prone information processing minds. Information, as it turns out, is not static and immutable. It is subject to transformations inside the minds processing that information. And, not all minds process information in identical manner. My ex, for instance, was a bit dyslexic, a bit hard of hearing, and had learned English as a second language, facts she did not always recognize as relevant to the task of processing incoming information and communicating her thoughts regarding that information. Hence, to most people she encountered, she came across as an interesting but quite difficult person to get along with. Both my and my son’s experience of her proved no different. I only wish mutually shared humor had been found more often between her and all the people she interacted with over the years. Humor, tempered with humility, helps bring into much more comfortable alignment things sensed from our fellows that may seem “off”. My view is that such humor is a far more effective interpersonal problem solver than distance, walls, and violence will ever be. If my ex had adopted that truism, life itself would likely have proven far more satisfying and less stressful for her, and likely for both my son and I too.

May you always look for and successfully find ways to share spirit elevating humor in the face of interpersonal stresses and problems. A heartfelt smile now and then really does help clear the mental rust and debris.

Monday, September 23rd, 2019