An old friend writes from far away. Oh, not that old. She's 48. I mean we've been friends a long, long time.
There's this bond between us. A connection. I felt it the first time we spoke, which is funny because the first thing she ever communicated to me was disdain. I was 23, so I reached into my repertoire for managing repartee with beautiful women and selected "boyish cockiness" for my retort.
When you're 23 and male, boyish cockiness is pretty much the extent of your repertoire.
But that was it for us -- bonded. A connection that has survived time together, protracted times apart, even years of no communication whatsoever. The friendship has survived love affairs -- not with each other -- marriages and becoming parents. We've been drunk together. And sober. It occurs to me that I've never seen her cry.
She was 20 when I met her. Once, on a whim, she sent me a picture of herself at age 5. I smiled. Somewhere inside myself I knew her then, too. Recognized her. In some alternative past, she and I played together in a sandbox (until she made me cry because she was so bossy). Like the bond between us contains secret passages that defy time and space.
She writes to me: "I get you, Steven Kalas."
Her words strike me like thunder. Truly awestruck, like the way you fall into a spectacular sunset, or the way you stop breathing when you're standing in a barn at 2 a.m. watching the birth of a calf. I'm focused in a point of time, staring at my monitor. It's like she's right here. Right now. I have a friend who gets me. She sees me. I jumble a few words and she says, "Oh yeah." She not only understands, but understands why and how things matter to me.
Then I have this other friend. Or did. Or thought I did. Could've sworn we were friends. Soul mates. Years we were friends. Across passion and victory and folly and failure. Across celebration and loss. This friend knows me. And doesn't know me at all.
We're not connected anymore.
And I know as much about why we're no longer connected as I do why I'm still connected to the other friend. Which is to say I don't know anything at all. And I've been railing against the disconnection, like, if I protest loudly and long enough, my erstwhile friend will snap out of it and be connected to me again.
I've decided to stop railing. Sad, yes. Probably sad forever. But pounding on it serves all the purpose of pounding on a grave. Why would I look for the living among the dead?
See, both connections and disconnections deserve the same responses. Awe. Respect for the mystery. Even I, a man who believes his gifts and his calling to be teaching people how to be in relationship -- well, I can't tell you much of anything about why some connections happen and some connections don't happen and still others disintegrate.
The most terrible thing my therapist ever said to me was also the most important: "Steven, we're alone. No one has anyone."
Yikes-oi. (Sorry. This sort of thing happens when a GoyBoy tries to express himself forcefully in Yiddish.)
I hated what she said. Railed against it. Argued with it. She had thrown existential sand into the gas tank of my fine-tuned DeLorean of delusion. And my pricey car would go not one mile farther.
My therapist was right. And, as with every other time when she is right, it's time for me to grow up. We're alone. No one has anyone.
Strangely, this new truth, while initially a scalpel slashed across my chest without anesthetic, did not burden and depress me for long. Surrender to separateness and aloneness quickly began to create a new space in me. A space for ... for ...
... relief. A kind of peace. And, most precious, gratitude and humility. Relationship is a grace. A kind of miracle. Human communion emerges as a gift. An unmerited joy. Yes, there are ways of living more conducive to forging and maintaining lasting relationships than other ways of living. I'm not saying there's nothing we can do. Just that, in the end, I no longer think I have earned or deserved the people who stand in the inner circle of my life.
I just give thanks.
We're alone. No one has anyone. Human beings cannot be possessed. They cannot be apprehended. They can only be respected and enjoyed. Or respected and bid farewell. Relationship is mystery.
Who really sees you? Who gets you? If you need more than one hand to count those people, you are rich beyond your dreams.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to email@example.com.