Mr. Rogers sang, “There’s only one in this wonderful world … you are special.” It’s true. All of us have countless facets to our personality which make each of us absolutely unique, even if we have an identical twin. However, we also have many facets that are not just common, but absolutely inherent in all humans, making us all as alike as we are unique.
Unless one is a literal hermit, we all must interact with other humans to some degree. Most of us do it on a daily basis with great success and even joy. Like most species, we are social beings and, with many facets to that social side, we bring a different part of ourselves to each of our relationships. It’s imperative that we don’t just keep all the generic facets of ourselves alive and active, but the specific ones as well. Balancing them all is the hard part.
In one of my favorite movies, “Shirley Valentine,” lead character Shirley awaits a visit from her husband, from whom she has briefly been estranged. It seems she went on vacation and just didn’t go home again; she neither wanted to nor believed anyone needed her to. When her husband arrives at her hotel, he nods politely as he walks past her. She calls his name and he replies that he didn’t recognize her.
“That’s because I used to be the wife and the mother. Now, I’m Shirley again.”
It’s a light film but it carries a deep message of how anyone can lose precious parts of him or herself in, or because of, the hectic monotony of daily life. Sometimes, we don’t well enough tend each part of our self: the person; the spouse; parent; son or daughter; sibling or friend. When we ignore any part of all that we are, it can evaporate a little – or completely, a little at a time. We need to nurture all the parts of us in each life – domestic, professional and personal.
I’ve recently been reminded of this through the journey of a dear friend whose life took a U-turn without her permission. Anyone can suffer a derailment from illness, loss, or a major career change, but when the rug of matrimonial promise and permanence is pulled out from under a person, the world can become a hard and lonely place regardless of any support team at hand. Even if we are ready for the better or worse, the “worst” can be impossible, especially if young kids are involved.
I occasionally enjoy a television show where brides shop for their perfect gown. I listen to them talk about why their fiancé is so wonderful, their “life-mate” and “best friend,” and I secretly always whisper a good wish at them. Still, we all know that about 33% of all marriages end in divorce, even those between good people starting with a solid base and genuine love.
Whatever our journey, we are human first. We need to love and be loved. Not only does our life partner represent our safe haven and honest sounding board, but he or she reciprocates the love in life that joins us as more than just parent and spouse, but as a true life mate.
In another of my favorite movies, “Something’s Gotta Give,” Diane Keaton’s character argues with her recent love interest. He had reawakened her desire to share her heart. Long divorced, she had mastered living without that feeling. Now, abandoned by this new love, she’s devastated again. There’s a part of each of us that can only shine when the light of another human hits it. That’s not to say we can’t “master living without” it. That’s just to say we’re a bit brighter with it.
In my friend’s journey, the stages were obvious: the hopes, the effort, denial, defeat, depression and the fading of that part of a person that a healthy life, mind and spirit should feature. I was privy to the parabola of feelings of this efficient, dedicated, ambitious young person carrying on after divorce. Handling the worst privately, she showed calm, persistent, and loving humanity and maternal acumen. Then, one day, I watched new love gradually bring the dead part alive again. It was like watching a black and white movie slowly absorb color.
There are many parts to each unique, generic human spirit. Joy and love are essential to each of them. They merit the optimism, and are well worth the risk and the wait.