The strangers we live with.

June 1, 2014 § 5 Comments

One ordinary afternoon that should, by now be long forgotten, I was sitting with my parents, when suddenly I was looking at strangers.

Two people in their early forties, the man was quite bald, the woman wore an ambiguous smile.

It lasted just a few moments, but for that brief time I disconnected from our all-my-life history, our shared memories, the absolute familiarity of their faces, the influence of our affection for each other and saw them as they were right then.

Wondering, who are these people? scared the daylights out of me.

Dad and kids.But as the narrator of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” observes, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

They elude us, at least in the present, because this moment trails so many others behind it.

The woman you’ve been married to for thirty years, the brother you shared a room with, your best friend since third grade? All are the sum of the multiple selves they have been.

We aggregate those past selves. We average them. The one who is standing next to us taking a breath in this moment is the one who eludes us.

Larry doing the "Rudy" face.We believe we know someone because we’ve compiled an internal photo album of shared memories.

The past preserved in that album is comfortable, safe.

It glows golden.

Remember the time?

We enshrine those closest to us.

And we trap them.

It is hard for us to see that the irresponsible teen is now a forty year old man with a good job, that the parent who cared for us now needs our care.

Filtered through years of familiarity, change in someone we are close to dawns on us gradually. Often we resist knowing.

Change, especially change that sets that person on another path, or diminishes the person who has been a reliable constant can feel like a betrayal. It threatens the steady state we rely on in a world that is anything but steady.

But no matter how close we remain separate beings. We change by choice and are changed by time and circumstance.

Norma circa  1948.Take a look at the strangers you know best. But when you do, close the photo album and see the snapshot that is this moment.

It is a scary and generous act, but let go of that long shared history and look again at the stranger you’ve known for as long as you can remember.

Note: The photos on this post come from my husband’s family, the Faasses, but we all have such photos affixed to faded black album pages with sticky corners–and many more just like them in our minds.


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§ 5 Responses to The strangers we live with.

  • craig reeder says:

    This is an amazing idea because it is so counter-intuitive. However, it is also a surprising coincidence for me. I read daily passages from a very peculiar book called “A Course in Miracles” which is designed to develop a more lucid state of consciousness. The main text is organized in daily lessons. Just a few days ago, I read lesson 3:
    “I do not understand anything I see…” and later on it explains: “the point of this exercise is to help you clear your mind of all past associations, to see things exactly as they appear to you now, and to realize how little you really understand about them.”

    This blog is really a deeply thought-provoking concept. Wow!


  • As always Adrian, you are my favorite philosopher in the flesh. Brava!


  • Thank you Jan. You are such a pal.


  • KM Huber says:

    Your post reminds me of my friend Maurya, whose friendship I enjoyed for almost all my life. Although she is now beyond form, I have felt her energy in the breeze and seen it in the light of stars. Recently, her partner (of 30 years) sent me a DVD that is a pictorial celebration of Maurya’s life. The DVD is stunning for it reveals her life as I knew it yet each time I watch it, there is yet another aspect of her. Sometimes, it is something remembered, and other times, it is something revealed. For all the other moments, I have the breeze across my face and the stars that light the night. One of your finest, Adrian. Thank you.


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