You hear people say it all the time, I need 3 feet of personal space please. At my catholic high school Sister Amina liked to walk around school dances with a ruler and shove it between couples during slow dances saying, “leave room for the Holy Spirit please.”
Keeping someone at arm’s length.
The buffer zone.
Call it what you want, it’s space. It’s a divide. In my opinion its catastrophic. I’m not saying I’m not guilty of it too. It’s a natural self-preservation technique. We do it in business as well as personal relationships. We let people get close but there’s that three feet of space that you keep for yourself. Very few if any are allowed inside that inner circle. This is, of course, for good reason. If you let someone in you can give them the ability to hurt you. Vulnerability can be a scary thing and many of us avoid it at all costs. But are you sure this cost is not too high?
When i began writing my blog only 10 people read it. I did not promote it, give it searchable key words, or try to get it out there in front of people in any way. The only way to find it is to ask me for the URL or to click on the posts I share on my facebook page. Which are simply the title and the link. i do not tell anyone what they are about or give them taglines. If you find my blog it’s probably more likely because it found you.
I’m not taking any credit for this. I graduated high school and probably could have received the superlative of most invisible if anybody had known that I was there. I am not a charismatic promoter, mover or shaker. It’s not me that got to you it’s the blog. The blog has a mind of its own people. It has a strange way of finding you when you need it. It found a past professor of mine who had been through something similar with her own child, a friend from graduate school who was coping with her mother’s own illness and countless others whom I have never met but have a friend of a friend of a friend who read it that passed it along. The blog is like the six degrees of separation that we all have from Kevin Bacon. Don’t believe me? Listen to this…
Not long after beginning to write I received an email from a sorority sister who I had not seen or heard from since graduation. We had been friends during undergrad but not particularly close. Seeing each other out on the weekends was perhaps the extent of it. Her email not only gave me chills it brought me to tears. In it was a story of an even more terrifying ordeal than my own. Her battle with an unbelievably rare autoimmune disorder and of course her story of triumph. (she is a tri-delt after all) What struck me most however was that she told me my writing had expressed every emotion that she had felt during that time. From the fear, to the frustration of not knowing what was wrong with you, to the crush on your doctor simply because, well, you know, he saved your life, to dealing with things like hormonal imbalance and infertility. When I asked her when all of this had started she told me she had had her first episode in March of 2012. I had also been diagnosed in March of 2012. Her life had been turned upside down in the exact same month as mine. March had been the beginning of the end for our old selves. To this day we still correspond to discuss life after illness and finding our “new normal” within our minds and bodies that have been forever changed.
A few months ago I received another email from my college roommate. We had grown apart over the years after college but this is someone who had taught me how to do “big hair,” and shared my love of “Sex and the City” “Friends” and taco salad from Rand Dining Hall. We still had a special bond. Anyway, one day she wrote to me and told me that “you know I read your blog but what you don’t know is that Caleb was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma two weeks ago. I sometimes feel that your posts are written just for me. They say just what i need to hear at just the right time.” Again I cried. She and her husband Caleb are newlyweds, only beginning to share their lives together. It seemed so unfair that life would throw this type of challenge at them. With shaking hands I typed her an email and gave her the best advice that I could. Ensuring her that both She and her husband had the strength to endure and that one of the few blessings that struggle brings is clarity. She and Caleb would be so focused on working together to win the battle that all of the unnecessary distractions in life would fall away. They would find out what and who truly matters. These two are of course both made of tough stuff and after undergoing some intense treatment Caleb’s scans came back clean just in time to start 2014 cancer free.
What I find fascinating about these two stories is that these were people I had shared my life with not so long ago but who were now somewhat removed from it. One I had not talked to in many years and believed I probably would not ever again, the other I saw sporadically but had accepted the fact that our lives had taken us in different directions. The only thing that had brought them closer to me was the blog and the fact that my experiences and my difficult decision to put my private life in the public forum had made them feel comfortable enough to email me. My initial step forward in turn allowed them to step forward as well and share their own stories. Deciding to take down the barriers and be open about what had happened to me allowed for the both of them to do the same. Corresponding with them has helped me in so many ways and I hope that it helps them as well.
But what about the people in your life who you perhaps keep even more than three feet away? Those who you do not bother to get to know or reach out to even though you know that possibly you could help them? Is it really so terrible to be open and let people be close to you? Is all this personal space in life really necessary? Vulnerability is the risk you take by being open but what if the person standing next to you in that elevator just lost their job and needs you to smile and make a joke about how terrible the elevator music is?
We all have the ability to change someone’s life for the better.
Keeping them from getting too close will only ensure that they are beyond our reach when they fall. How are we supposed to help each other up if there is too much space between us?
How can we embrace one another if we keep each other at arm’s length?