There’s this thing that happens… maybe just to me.
I click into an article or blog that half of my timeline has shared (or maybe some particular person I respect) because it must be worth a peek. It turns out to be a mini-memoir, a portrait of a relationship, an exploration of how this particular human who has made some kind of connection with another human.
It’s a slice of their lives, told like a story. In church-y circles, we might call it a testimony.
I like a good testimony, especially the unfinished sort. The ones that end kind of like The Sopranos – not a damn thing tied up in a bow. The telling has stopped because the living needs to happen before more story can be told. I finish reading and know that their lives are still going on, just without me staring in through the curtain that this one essay, this one testimony, had pulled back and then let fall closed.
I like the essays that bear witness to a reality without imbuing it with too much meaning, without too much 20-20 hindsight (though even that is probably less clear than we’ve been led to believe). A really good one bears witness to the complexity of the way we collide into each other and the damage those collisions do internally, collaterally, beautifully.
Those messy stories, with narrators who neither tout their rightness nor wallow in their wrongness, allow me to respond with my amens, nods, and grunts of empathetic recognition. Even when I and the people with whom I have collided have little else in common with those in the essay, beyond humanity and the little bangs with which we create our universes day by day.
The problem comes when the conversations start, conversations between people who don’t know what souvenirs others might be carrying around from their own adventures. The collisions in these virtual spaces can be just as wonderful and just as jarring as any that happen in a physical space. Maybe more-so, if we allow our masks to drop in that gap between our hands and that tiny little avatar on-screen.
It might be in an offhand comment, or a counter-testimony, or some shorthand among close friends who’ve fought battles together. But the message is clear. She’s doing it wrong. He’s doing it wrong. And by extension, because I can SOOOO relate to the one whose life-window we’ve just closed… I’m doing it wrong. And that hurts like hell.
Don’t tell me my love isn’t fierce enough or my grief is misguided. Don’t expect my heart to play by the rules that you’ve figured out for yours. It’s too damned complicated, the way our hearts smash and entwine, extricate and shred, adore and hate, all in the service of love.
Tell me how to make amazing steel cut oatmeal. Tell me to stop using two spaces after a period (I’m trying, really). Don’t tell me how to love.