Friday, February 21, 2014

Relationships Take Me Beyond Myself

If I try to consider my life in a truly objective way, something is very clear: I am not alone. Insofar as I am an actual human person, I am not an isolated atom who generates the meaning of my own identity. We are habituated to consider ourselves as autonomous, independent individuals who can be entirely self-fulfilled by whatever we choose to be and to do.

It's a very heady philosophy, but it just doesn't correspond to reality. It's certainly not my own experience. I am not the source of myself. I didn't even give myself my own name!

As soon as I look honestly at my real self, I find that I cannot separate that personal self from relationships, concrete relationships with real other persons; relationships that take me beyond myself.

I have never been an isolated, autonomous entity, not for a single moment. The most obvious facts of my life reveal that I have always been a person-in-relationship. I came into existence as the son of my parents, and the dawn of my awareness is full of the memory of being a son, a brother, a grandson, and a nephew. I soon began to discover that I was also a "friend," and as the years have gone by I have discovered the value of this relationship on all of its many different levels.

The original experience of belonging-to-a-family, far from being a prison or a suffocation of my freedom, has been the foundation from which I have grown in the capacity to love others and commit myself to further relationships. In this growth of love, I have not "lost" my original relationships. On the contrary, the depth of these relationships grows even as the circumstances change. It's not a smooth or perfect growth -- there are failures and misunderstandings and setbacks and forgiveness -- but it's real growth.

This is what happened when I became an adult; above all when I became a
husband. Here I have really learned that I am nothing by myself, that I must share myself, share my life, live in communion with a someone else.

I have learned this not by any theory, but by hard human experience, not only by the joys of giving and sharing many blessings, but also through dark and difficult times, through the recognition that the ugliness I found inside myself was a cause of real suffering to another human being, and that we had to give and receive and share our lives together even in these ugly, painful places.

At the heart of love and of all relationships is this mysterious thing called "sacrifice." You really know that you belong to someone when you just give without expecting anything back, you just give because there is this other person who is with you and who needs you in order to keep herself together and move forward.

You know you really belong to someone when you are humbled, when another suffers and makes sacrifices for you, and carries burdens with you because you are together with her in life. You know you really belong to someone when she makes space in her life for your faults, when she treats you with patience and compassion. It can be a grubby business, like digging a trail through the woods, but some new sense arises in the midst of this struggle. You are going somewhere together, and you need each other to get there. Even more so, there is a truth that begins to emerge: you both want to get there together. You sacrifice because you really love the other person, you want her to arrive at her destiny, and it is the same destiny as your own.

And, of course, there are others on the path too.

Bad for my back, even two years ago
At a certain point in my life, "I" suddenly acquired the identity of "Daddy." I tell all the amusing stories, because that is my nature and also because -- by the blessing of God -- we are (usually) a cheerful, funny, openhearted bunch, who have been blessed with much joy together (and also more than a little nuttiness and chaos). Thank God, we are a loving family, even if we do get on one another's nerves every single day.

But these kids have also heard their father's cries of pain and have seen his incapacity and his withdrawal. They have also seen that he loves them, that he struggles to be present to them, and to guide them according to the wisdom and love of God. They know that he prays for a strength that he does not possess by his own power. They also know that he and their Mommy love each other.

These are relationships that are already taking new forms, and will change throughout life. I live each day and try to respond, knowing that the future will bring sacrifices and suffering and also a greater foretaste of true joy.

God, of course, makes everything possible. It is all the story of a fundamental relationship, the one that makes me exist: my relationship with God. I am, at every moment, called-into-being by the personal love of God. God's love is the reason why I exist at all, in the beginning and also at this very moment. The same God draws my freedom into relationship with him, to love him as my ultimate destiny.

I dwell with God in the silent and secret places of my own heart. But in the depths of that heart I find the others that I have been called by God to love. He has brought us together to love one another and serve one another, to lead us all together to himself and to let his mercy shine through us.