I was in grade school when a radical concept occurred to me. I can't remember exactly how old I was--old enough to be walking the three short blocks home unchaperoned. It was one of those halcyon childhood afternoons--blue sky, warm sun. The additional boon of an earlier rain had left residual puddles, and I was dragging my feet through, stomping, dallying, thinking whatever I was thinking, and very much the center of my own universe when I had an idea that stopped me dead.
Perhaps if I were not in fact me but some other little girl splashing around in a puddle, I might not be thinking this very thought. Perhaps I would be thinking something else entirely. This thinking thing that was happening inside of me--it might just be happening in other people, too.
Maybe other people were the centers of their own universes just like I was.
It was so unsettling a thought, so radical, that I wasn't certain it could be true. Being me was a full time job. Literally every hour of the day was devoted to it; it required all my time. What were the odds that other people were their own full time jobs? It seemed unlikely. It was too vast.
(I also sometimes wondered if I wasn't a character in a book being read by some other little girl, and fretted over how I could be certain that I wasn't.)
This idea seemed just as unlikely. Could the same kind of maelstrom that regularly occurred in me be simultaneously occurring all the time in everyone else, too? I got tired just thinking about it.
Sometimes, even now, it makes me lonely. Each of us a universe that can press close to another universe, bump up against but never truly inhabit it. Each of us a planet who will have lots of contact with alien life but never be truly occupied by it.
Of course, most days I know that it's the connections we make that hold life's meaning. The bonds forged on purpose between ourselves and another are more precious than any house, car, or granite countered kitchen.
There are relationships, friendships, those who hold us in their gravitational pull, those we orbit around, those who orbit us, those by whom we are touched, and the impressions they leave upon us. There is of course art: literature, poetry, music; those great works that take on life of their own, greater than their creators or than just any one person, and make the leap from one heart to another.
Just yesterday I encountered this quote from Rilke:
"Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky."
No matter how well we think we know someone they remain in ways large or small, a mystery. We can't ever know the entirety of another heart. In a world that is always expanding, we can't even know the entirety of our own.
I take as my premise that everything we humans do we do in attempt to make ourselves happy. No matter how skillful or misguided, I believe that is what humans want. I've heard my teacher say many times that we are free enough to make ourselves perfectly miserable if we want to. All too often we do that in unskillfuly endeavoring happiness.
Other people, centers of their own universes, want happiness too. Like us, they may be skillful or unskillful in the ways they go about it. They may profoundly impact us, or just a little, or not at all. They may ruffle our surfaces, touch us in deep places, waltz with us, change us, lacerate us, break our hearts. We may be baffled by other humans. Their actions may be as unfathomable as on that day so long ago when I stomped puddles.
Republican or Democrat; hedgefunder or yoga teacher. We're not so very different underneath it all--not really. We're all living in worlds of infinite distance, seeking points of contact at our edges, and maybe even wormholes to the center.