One of the most pervading assumptions that we humans make is the simple, misleading notion that everyone in our lives will always be there. That the things we worked so hard to create won’t ever change.
Sure, plain old logic tells us this isn’t true. No one is immortal, we learn from a young age (superheroes aside). And all things are constantly changing. Sadly, as we grow older, we inevitably experience the truth of this firsthand. Yet, in our daily lives, how often do we overlook the immensity of richness, the color and texture and quality of light we receive from our relationships? How often do we forget the momentous opportunity we are presented with each day to give back of ourselves–our talents, our humor, our insights, our capacity to simply listen and be there for those whom we love and who love us?
Kabbalah teaches that our meaningful connection to others is our soul’s highest purpose in this life. And every relationship, either directly or indirectly, is at its foundation based in friendship. Our lovers, our children, our teachers, students, workers and bosses–they are all friends to varying degrees. The closer the relationship, the more it needs constant care and feeding (yes, just like those garden plants). Friendship, which lies at the heart of love, is a process, not a destination. It ebbs, it flows, it moves and grows. And each unique relationship brings with it an opportunity for personal and mutual growth.
That’s why none should be taken for granted. A couple of years back, I counseled a woman who was hedging towards leaving her husband. She was keenly aware of her dissatisfaction, and in her mind, her husband was to blame. I encouraged her to consider the best in him, but she was inflexible to that suggestion. She didn’t like the way he combed his hair or brushed his teeth. And his method of handwashing was a complete travesty: he splattered water everywhere, so she couldn’t use that sink without getting her shirt soaked. (We’ve all been there–leaning in towards the mirror to put on your eyeliner, only to find your silk blouse wet from the countertop!) Anyway, one day her husband went in for a minor procedure, and he never woke up. After that, the annoyances were forgotten. The woman only remembered the good. In mourning, her story moved from “Why am I with him?” to “Why was I so blind?”
Yet we’re all guilty at times. We get impatient with our children. We feel unnecessary stings from our friends’ minor infractions. We shoo away our cats or dogs and tell our partners we’re too tired to connect. All these things are human; they’re entirely understandable, especially when we’re tired, stressed, or compromised ourselves. But can we try, just for today, not just to look, but to truly see the gift of presence in those who are present in our lives? Can we shift our perspective from “what are you doing or not doing for me?” to “how can I enrich your life today?” This is a step. We can take another when we realize that what is in front of us now is not the whole story. There’s a history inside every relationship.
Last week, I was reading about a cardiac anomaly called “broken heart syndrome,” or, in medical speak, stress cardiomyopathy. Resembling a heart attack, it occurs in some people who have lost spouses or other close relations, and usually within the first year of loss. (Thankfully, most patients recover.) According to cardiologist Patrick O’Gara of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the phenomenon “reconfirms the relationship between the brain and the heart.” It’s a striking reminder that we are co-creators of our health, just as we are of our lives. Nurturing our relationships nurtures ourselves as well; and, as in so many spiritual practices, we can start the process with gratitude. We can be thankful for others’ presence in our lives and for all the unique qualities each person brings to us and the world.
Rav Berg once said, “The moment appreciation is lost, the relationship is lost.” As we head into this “week of love” (though, really, aren’t they all?) I encourage you to open your eyes and heart fully to those important people in your life, yourself included. Make the effort, make the call, and tell those you love what you appreciate most about them!
Because we may have each other today, but today can’t be held forever, at least not in the way we expect it to be. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Compared to [the stars], we are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live their lives in the course of a single day.”
So let’s seize this one, with all our hearts.
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