We live our days and nights, our work and loves and friendships on a very crowded subway without seats. If we cannot distinguish an accidental stepping on our toes from a deliberate kick in the groin then we are in for a world of torment and trouble. But beyond that simple reality is another. Some feet feel heavier than others, and interestingly enough, in my experience it is precisely those whom we love the most whose clumsiness gives us the most pain.
There seems to be something in us from early childhood, perhaps the total vulnerability of infancy soothed only in the arms of a protective parent, that expects the same kind of protection from the people we love. When as adults we inevitably bruise each other the pain is compounded with the same kind of a sense of betrayal exhibited by the five year old dropped unforgivingly into school. “How could you do that to me?” Emphasis, as it always is in these situations, on “TO ME!”
The hard earned but reluctant knowledge that we are adults, each with our own agenda, oblivious 90% of the time to the sensitivities and unique proclivities of even out closest friends and lovers, doesn’t shield us from the sudden hot singe of discovery: indifference is the coin of our daily commerce, and that truth throws us humpty-dumpty like off our fence into a scramble onto the existential ground of our existence.
All the apologies are like large holed nets unable to lift us back into a recognizable shape. At least initially. We do recover, but usually it requires a series of accusations and counter accusations which sometimes sort themselves out and evolve into something resembling a dialogue which, with luck and perseverance can lead to better understanding and even a deepening intimacy. That seems to be the price and the potential reward of our relationships.
But in my fantasy of sunny isles and warm waters for splashing around in, what lingers in the back of my mind is this question: suppose, the next time I am left unexpectedly puddled on the ground instead of going with my instinct for retaliation, I just said out loud what I might say on the subway? Suppose I looked my loved one in the face and simply said, “Ouch!” Isn’t there a reasonable chance that she would respond with genuine concern, “Oh, I’m sorry, did I step on your toes?”