We become ourselves through others, and the self is a porous thing, not a sealed container. If it begins as a genetic map, it is one that is expressed over time and only in relation to the world… We do not author ourselves, which is not to say that we have no agency or responsibility, but rather that becoming does not escape relation.
– Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking
Then there’s Martha. This week as I write for some specific people, with them in mind surely, but also to them, I am struck by their various effects upon me. I recall how some of us met, but not all. I know when a couple of us met, but not everyone. Julio, David, Rose, and Gail will need to fill in the details.
The word that best describes for me how Martha and I met – and continue to meet – is intentionally. For the better part of the past 20 years, we have known each other quite well. More than a decade ago, I called and left her a voice message at work early in the day before she got to her job, wishing her well and cheering her on. I did this most days for many, many months. Since then we have devoted a minimum of two hours a week for at least 40 weeks of each year listening to each other.
This past weekend, before Rose or Gail came over to so generously work on the upcoming exhibition of Paul’s work, Martha came to be listened to and to listen. She heard about the things that could get in the way of me doing what needed to be done, of my fear of the landmines awaiting the archaeology of Paul’s artistic life. She has listened to me for more than 500 hours. I have done the same for her. This has made a world of difference.
In the context of our relationship, I see more of my life’s work and less of my job. I experience bigger thinking and fewer tactical fixes. My values are clearer; I know where I am from. Because of this, I start each new week more energized for my job and clearer about problem-solving tactics.
Our listening partnership has involved moves, aging, celebration, new jobs, disappointments, and deaths. But most of all, our partnership has involved a constancy of sorts. I don’t think that either of us intends to change the other. But we have changed each other. Our individuality is not only derived from inherited personal traits or childhood experiences. Individuality is also a product of our community relationships.