Re-membering in a time of distance

By Jeanette Moss

Bumping elbows at a kitchen sink. Stepping on toes while dancing. Two hands touch when reaching into a bowl. Walking into a person when coming out of an elevator.  When these physical altercations happen it reminds me

where I end and where your body begins. 

  

But what happens when there is distance between us? What happens when we don’t bump into one another or have a regular slightly awkward connection (partly due to the fact that I have food in my teeth from lunch?). What happens when the only version of me is seen through zoom, or my profile pic. 

What happens when there is a (perceived or real) conflict between us and then ALL there is – is space? Loads of space and time. Heaps of distance and no bumping into each other. What happens? 

Well I’m starting to think that something weird happens; something very strange. 

With you not there, I fill in the gap.  

Filling the gap means that I predict where I end and where you begin. Or course, I can’t know for sure, but I predict what you’d say, or what you’d think, or feel. My (very active) imagination tries to fill the gap between where I am and where you begin.  As a child of the 80s and coming from guilt-ridden viking heritage, my filling in the gap are stories, actually they are more like worst-case scenarios. Simply put, they’re grim. My macabre imagination can often shape a dark story of where you are (physically) or what you think (about a relevant issue), or how you feel (about me or veganism). But if who I am and what I think doesn’t get an opportunity to bump up against you and we can’t talk about it. Things go weird.

Metaphorically speaking – if there is no one beside me on the bus (which for this metaphor is my imagination) then I will man-spread sit and put arms out so wide it will embarrass you and your grandma. But if I know you are right behind me then I will do my best to make sure both bum cheeks are on one seat(ish) and I will do my best to keep my bag on my lap (like a human). When the bus gets bumpy and our arms touch, I am reminded that I am me, and you are you.  

Because when I know you’re there – I make space for you.   

The “Archbishop of Vulnerable Leadership” (my title for her) Brene Brown talks about the power of confronting these stories by saying “The story I’ve been running in my head is…..” as a way to check with the person on whether the narrative we’ve constructed matches the person’s experience.  The story I’ve been running in my head could be that 

  • You don’t like me anymore
  • You’re too busy for me
  • You’re mad at me
  • You don’t trust me anymore because…
  • You can’t see me
  • You’re too fearful to talk about what’s really important
  • You don’t think I made a good choice 
  • You haven’t forgiven me

I’ve used this a few times over the years and I’m happy to report – Brene knows a few things. Every time I lead with “the story I’ve been running in my head is…” it turns out my story is wrong! Or maybe there’s some truth but it’s NEVER been the whole story. 

So before we race to gather again and bump elbows or step on toes (which I’m SO excited to do that’ll likely hurt myself and you in the process), be courageous and check in with those people in your life that you’ve been running stories on. 

It might be hard to put your preconceived ideas aside. It likely will be. But know that when you make space for another person to speak truthfully – rather than letting your imagination tell you what might be there – you are making room for the paradoxical, the complex, the painful and the sheer beauty of what IS. 

Me: The story I’ve been running in my head is that thanks to Covid and Instagram there is so much distance and so much polarity between us.

You? Are you sure it’s because of Covid, I mean maybe it’s always been there and you’re just noticing it now?  

Me: Ya, you’re probably right – can we talk about this space between us?

You? Yes.

Me: Before we start, how do you feel about PDA?