A person can live out their life right in front of you day after day, yet you still don't really see them... at least not as a whole.
My dear friend pointed out to me recently that it is very easy to get caught up in negatives about a person or situation you've become very close to, losing the "big-picture" view that you once had.
Over the years I've probably lost clear perspective on most of the people that are uber-close to me... my mother, my husband, our three children.
I spend so much time in their company and I am connected to them each so deeply that often I don't full know where I leave off and they begin. We're all melded together in some way.
For example I finally posted some photos of my kids taken during the last few months that had been sitting in my camera. I was shocked to see how much older they are looking - especially my eldest boy.
I see him in person every single day, but somehow the photos brought to my attention just how much he has actually grown up this year. And I had to ask myself, how clearly do I really see this kid?
I have written a lot about him in the blog, a lot about his dancing and school successes - even more about the tempestuous (stressful) relationship between he and his brother.
I wonder though, do I see him as a whole person? If I were to put everything I know about him down on paper... his kindness, his sensitivity, his hard work at school, and balance that against the tougher times we face together at home... would I get a different sense of him as a kid? If I were to interview the other people in his life, would their stories about him broaden my perspective?
Same query holds for his siblings. How well do I actually know them? Sure, I see them nearly 24/7 in a certain context - at home here with me - but what are they like when they're at preschool, alone with their daddy, visiting the grandparents, on playdates or in social situations?
Typically I think of our younger son as being the victim of hostility that takes place in the house here, but today I noticed that he himself was instigating a lot of conflict. I had to ask myself, how much does this kid manipulate me? How much does he provoke situations with his brother and sister? I adore him, I adore them all - but really... am I emotionally removed enough to see who he is as a whole? Or do I perceive him as the underdog because he is physically smaller, which affects the way I interpret the conflicts between he and his brother?
Even my beloved guy, my husband... how long has it been since I stood back and really assessed all of the amazing and quirky things that make him who he is?
It's so easy to take the people close to us for granted or place them into a role in our heads or hearts. My mother is unfailingly there for me, always kind enough to take my calls even if it is late at night or early in the morning... even if she herself is tired and worn down. I see her as having the strength and grace of Mother Teresa.
Will I ever pull back far enough from her to view her objectively as a woman with thoughts, dreams and interests of her own? How well do I actually know the whole person that is my mother, other than in her role as my mother?
This line of thinking raises more questions than answers, but I think it is valid to push myself further and really dig deep. For that matter, how well do I actually know myself these days?
If you asked me today, "Who are you - how do you define yourself in relation to the rest of the world?" I think I would answer that I am a mother, a wife and a writer. But is that really all I am? Anyone that knows me would probably say that I don't fit neatly into those images; that there is considerably more to me than that. However I am probably way too close to my own thoughts and experiences to see myself very clearly.
I don't even get a clear self-perception from looking in a mirror. Many days I look briefly in the mirror in the morning and groan over how thin, tired and bony I look... but then I'll see a photograph taken that day and realize that I didn't actually look as terrible as I felt.
I wonder, then, how any person would go about meticulously gathering evidence to broaden his or her own understanding of self... I wonder if it would be possible to dedicate oneself to learning about the people who are very close in our lives.
This makes me contemplate my father in the last three years of his life. Did I grow so much closer to him - especially when he was in the context of the nursing homes - because his persona became so one-dimensional it was finally easy to wrap my head around? Because I could finally understand him?
When I was a child, my father was one of the most brilliant and complicated people I knew... and quite hard to love. As he was dying, all of his complexities fell away and he became childlike in his simplicity, sweetness and tantrums; so very easy to love. I feel tremendous warmth for him to this day, not based on the many years we spent fighting each other when I was young and he was an intellectual giant - but rather thanks to the handful of later years I spent by his bedside as he slowly lost his mind.
If I were to make a systematic, concerted effort to LEARN the people in my life ~ the really close ones that would actually want to be truly known by me ~ I wonder how this would change our relationships. I wonder how this would change me.
I also wonder if we are actually meant to know anyone fully. For example, my father made a lot of choices in his career that I strongly disagreed with... would I have had less compassion or affection for him at the end of life if I had been a fly on the wall during the years and days when he made political adversaries in his university jobs? Or if I'd watched him floundering through his first marriages?
Is it possible that knowing people only partially helps us to love them with total abandon, especially if there are sides of their personality that we might not like?
My son chooses to show certain sides of his personality only within the privacy of our home, around my husband and me. If you were to ask any of his grandparents about him they would be sure to tell you that he was calm, wise and sweet. Very mature for his age. "He is five years old going on one hundred," one of his special grandmothers likes to say.
If she really knew him, 100%, would she still feel this way? I suspect that he does not want to find out, because he carefully controls his outbursts around her. In truth, our son does NOT want to be *fully known* by most people. And that is something interesting to consider as well.
Perhaps many people ~ even the ones I am close to ~ don't want to be fully known. Maybe there are certain parts of ourselves that we choose to keep private and sacred, because they are ours alone. In that vein, perhaps we choose life partners that we sense will respect our privacy and honor both what we share and what we choose not to share.
This is a lot of food for thought, and I am left with more questions than answers. It's just interesting to ponder whether it is necessary to fully know a person in order to truly love them. Obviously ~ at least in my case ~ the answer is no.