The balance of relations

As we grow, I think the bonds we share with others can become a… consideration, perhaps even a task. The world is so saturated with different choices, pathways, that if we want to stand a chance of keeping tethered to another boat, another rower, we need some strong ropes. Maybe these ropes need to be made, not found.

That said, how can we hold the balance here between a healthful task and wearying burden? We can’t pursue these bonds like hunters in a wood – we can’t stalk them, only to be caught, pathetic and repulsive, in the daylight. We care for them, but we alone can’t be the safeguard, precisely because they are bonds; they need two pairs of hands.

Nevertheless, our task requires deft hands. I’ve just finished reading Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf (highly recommended!). She was a character of many bonds, and simultaneously a far from perfect person. Her illness (and maybe even her personality) could make her distant, sour, hurtful, like all of us. But her death brought hundreds of mourning letters to her husband. She was loved and she touched souls not only through her writing, but through an example we can all follow: she cared, when it meant something.

I can’t find the quote right now (it’s a hefty book!) but witnesses remembered her in conversations, paying attention at the right moments, asking meaningful questions, listening, and that’s perhaps why people really loved her. She wasn’t afraid to call out when she felt mistreated. She shouted and scathed in her own way, rather than simpering, and in fact I think this might be the way forward.

We can’t be the victims of our relations. Yes, we must listen, ask and care. We (crucially) must remain open to all who come our way, as we would a life-long friend. But we must not suffer compensating for the absence of that second pair of hands.

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