A few days before Christmas I heard a British man speaking about his abhorrence of Christmas, and the lengths to which he goes to avoid it. This year he was spending the time in Australia; last year, he’d gone to the Congo (of course, Australia, Congo … same diff).
He cited the hypocrisy of feeling, the consumerism, and so on. In short, he served up all the ready-to-hand “agreements” about Christmas in a two-minute burst of heat and fear.
What he left out, to my ears, was the source of the fear: that at Christmas we come face-to-face with the state of our relationships.
In the book The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic orchestra, tells of a time he came face-to-face with the state of his relationships: when his second wife
walked away from the marriage midstream.
Luckily, his wife saw something he couldn’t quite see at first. He tells the story thus:
At the same time [as leaving] she asserted – though at first I did not listen – that we would always be in relationship, and that it was up to us to invent the form. Clearly the family had not been thriving under the arrangement we’d had. ‘Let’s invent a form,’ she said, ‘that allows us to contribute to each other, and let’s set a distance that allows us to be fully ourselves.’
Get that? At this late, late stage, she raises the possibility of something completely new.
He gets it.
Going down for the second time, I understood and grabbed hold. I saw the whole thing was made up and that the game of success was just that, a game. I realised I could invent another game.
The game he goes on to invent he calls “being a contribution”. What he means by that is a post for another day. For now, what matters is what each of them saw.
His wife saw that no matter if they were married or divorced they would always be in relationship. Moreover, her stance also implies something much broader: that all of us are always already in relationship. Whether we are married, divorced, or strangers to each other. We don’t have to establish or build a relationship: it’s already there. What we do, if anything, is call forth something already there.
Benjamin saw that something new was possible. Amid the pain and shock of the marriage breakdown new ways of relating and being presented themselves to him. He was not being given by his past or by his circumstances, he was being given by the future.
What both of them saw was that if the present form wasn’t working they could invent a form that did work.
Today I’m thinking about that British man, so full of hurt and fear, and hoping someone invites him into a new game. I may see him again, and if I do, I’ll invite him myself. What about you? What new games, what new forms, are you inventing for your relationships in the coming year?
Image: Engadin ski marathon, Switzerland by Valentin Flauraud/Reuters, courtesy of The Guardian
If you enjoyed this post …
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy: