Jan 24, 2022
4 mins read
Don’t attach yourself to people, and try to feel as little as you possibly can for those you do meet. Because otherwise you will slowly lose your mind…
– Matt Haig, How to Stop Time
I’ve always kept people at a distance. The closest I’ve ever let anyone come is an arm’s length. Even then I’ve learned to inwardly isolate myself miles beyond the span in which a shoulder stretches towards the ends of finger tips. I suppose I’ve always been troubled by the paradox of love and belonging.
Maybe I came into the world congenitally ill-equipped for connection; an inherited incapacity weaved into the strands of my DNA; an ontological precondition that comes from being an only child.
But that seems overly cynical…even for me.
I have become so accustomed to the avoidance of closeness that’s it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the cause or catalyst. I could give you a series of self diagnosed analyses intended to explain my unconscious leaning towards aloneness. But, each seems half-heartedly fallacious and anachronistic; an eisegesis read into the story of who I am rather than interpreted from it. But perhaps every life lives in the tension between extrapolation and misconstrual.
In the brevity of my first few years alive I experienced an inextricable kinship with my grandfather that many never get to have in an entire lifetime. And, in the same breath, when he died unexpectedly, I came to understand the fragile temporality of all things through the catastrophe of loss. Perhaps the person that I am is simply what formed in the wake of his passage.
I learned, early on, that no matter how sure or how certain something seems, nothing is impenetrably stable. Nothing stays. Everything that stands is only ever one small step away from falling apart.
There have been a near countless collection of possible causes for my self-inflicted solitude. A rapid succession of childhood moves: changing countries, states, addresses, and streets; always an outsider, never belonging, never home. An array of unrequited affections. An assortment of relationships that ran their course and came to bitter ends either with or without closure. I began to believe that being detached from as many people and things as possible was a defense against the dangers of being open, intimate, and vulnerable; an unspoken spell to ward against harm.
It’s a strange truth then that the isolating measures we take aimed at protection and self-preservation are the most insidious forms of self-destruction. We are, perhaps, never more in danger of delirium and instability than when we are closed and cloistered within the citadel of our own inturnedness.
Perhaps there in lies a veracity that resounds regardless of all our reasoning. The more we attempt to withstand the temptation of close connection, the more we are torn apart by our unyielding need for it. We crave what we are most incapable of grasping.
What I understand even less than why we close ourselves off from the warmth of community and care, is how one person can so easily tear down the walled city we have spent years erecting in a single meeting. How one encounter can crack us open so blissfully that it becomes more painful to keep ourselves shut.
It’s inexplicable, but somewhere, in the midst of all the tired loneliness and restless searching, something unforeseeable happens. We find ourselves wholly enveloped by an unprecedented presence that awakens us in ways we never knew possible. We stare baffled and awestruck into the face of perfection personified, witnessing a miracle made flesh.
Caught off guard by the most kindred of any and all spirits. Every inhalation is overtaken by the uncanny atmosphere of love and belonging. We are overwhelmed by a fullness, an excess, an abundance. “[The] two most fundamental aspects of life”, as John O’Donohue explains, “Being and Longing” are brought together; “the longing of our Being and the being of our Longing.” All at once we recognize that we have been holding our breath for an innumerable measure of days and in an instant we feel the incredible expansion our lungs being brought back to life. Everything is different afterwards and nothing can ever really be the same again.
It’s true that both love and belonging can be complicated. But, it’s beauty is intricate and elegant not in spite of the fact but because of it. The isolated seclusion of being unattached may be a simpler and less complex way of life, but it is neither safe nor sane.
Love is dangerous and it is not without it’s pangs and pitfalls. But, it pales in comparison to the suffocating small-heartedness of unfeeling.
Love can make you crazy. But, the greater madness is the slow and agonizing disillusionment that comes from not only losing your mind but losing your heart.
The inexplicable paradox of love and belonging is that it kicks down your door in the softest and subtlest of ways. It caresses you compassionately with niceties screamed from a megaphone.
And, perhaps the point is not to question it at all. Maybe it’s simply best to let yourself learn to believe that it’s true.