Monday, November 10, 2008

Freezing and Unfreezing

There are these two nude statues, man and woman, standing across from each other in a secluded park. A few hundred years after they've been put in place, an angel flutters down to them.

A wave of his hand, and suddenly the statues have been given flesh, and they step down from their pedestals.

The angel says, "I have been sent to grant the request you both have made after hundreds of years of standing across from each other, unable to move. But be quick--you only have fifteen minutes until you must become statues again."

The man looks at the woman, and they both flush, and giggle, and run off into some underbrush. An intense rustling comes from the bushes, and seven minutes later, they both come back to the angel, obviously satisfied.

The angel smiles at the couple. "That was only seven minutes--why not go back and do it again?"

The former statues look at each other for a minute, and then the woman says, "Why not? But let's reverse it. This time you hold down the pigeon, and I'll shit on its head...."


Not to wax too philosophical about a silly story - but I think it's often in the nature of the couple relationship that we get frozen into positions. We can be drawn to each other because we see in the other qualities that complete something for us. Kindness where we might have experienced harshness in the past. Adoration reflected back at us from our partner's eyes instead of the contempt we came to expect from someone who was once important to us. Help instead of invisibility. Sorrow for our pain, instead of self righteousness.

Once we receive these surprising gifts, it is easy to lock the partner into this role, defined by these attributes, a role we so much want him or her to ceaselessly portray. And to become intolerant of any deviations from the script.

Richard needs me to listen to him, to give him the complete hearing his family was unable to provide. I need him to see me, to reflect back to me my beauty and not shame me for my warts. When I can't listen to him, or he can't recognize me, we can get frozen. We can get stuck in a struggle to coerce the response we so desire from the other, and ironically, this struggle drives away what we most want -- connection.

Illness, of course, makes this dance more intricate. Pain, exhaustion, fear on the part of the ill partner can make the needs feel more urgent while the ability to articulate them becomes more remote. Helplessness, empathy, anger, and exhaustion on the part of the well partner can have the same effect. What is the result? Freezing. Getting locked in place in repetitive, fruitless attempts to extract comfort from someone as wounded and stuck as you.

How do you unfreeze? Go shit on a pigeon.

Not literally. But introduce something unexpected into the mix. Something startling. Especially something funny. Something that disrupts the pattern and starts the unfreezing. Anything from Monty Python or the Daily Show, even the Weather Channel. Watch a small dog try to carry a very large stick. Reach across the aisle and grab hold of your partner's hand.

Go shit on a pigeon.


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU. That was truly inspiring. You helped me today.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. That was truly inspiring. I laughed, I cried...You helped me.