This afternoon I have been doing time in the seat. On Friday it is commonplace to have a diminished load of tasks versus other weekdays. Given this trend, I usually delay completing said work until nearly day's end so that I may rush through those last few agonizing, pre-weekend hours in a flurry of activity and efficiency. This staving off of work tends to lead to lots of time for daydreaming, internet-surfing, phone checking, etc.
Today I have been fixated on a memory. Just over five years ago, I contemplated giving a gift. I had just started my relationship with Keith, maybe six months before. He was such a refuge for me in a time of upheaval; I was missing my friends from school, finding it difficult to live under my parents' roof and rules, and trying to navigate the universally tumultuous mid-20s. I was lonely and he was my light. We had lots of interests in common, an easy-going dialogue, a strong attraction, and several other key ingredients for the recipe of love. I loved him. I guess maybe it's not important to get into the details of our relationship, or maybe it is.
In any case, I had strong feelings of love and I was thinking of giving him this present. I wanted to express something to him about the way that I felt and I thought I could do it through a gift. He was one of those guys who was pretty fashionable, although certainly not in terms of what's fashionable now. He wasn't metro, or hipster, or preppy, but he had an aesthetic all his own and it was pretty cute. So one of the things that I thought he would actually make use of were he given it was a ring. A manly ring. A plain titanium type band, maybe with a little black ring through the middle or something. You know the type I mean, right? Like you'd see a guitar playing front-man wear unironically. I knew it would look good on him and, because it matched his aesthetic, he would actually wear it.
But the ring alone wasn't enough. I wanted to engrave something on it, something that indicated it was from me, and that communicated to him the things I was feeling. A message.
I thought - what do I put in it? We were already saying, "I love you," at that point in the relationship. I could say that, but it's so trite and hallmarky. Besides that it was conventional, and you know I like to do things unconventionally. I also thought about "I love thee" like the ring in Romeo & Juliet, but I had no reason to believe he'd ever seen that movie, and that felt a little too copycat for me. I wanted something that encapsulated how I felt about love. After I thought about it for quite awhile, the thing that came to mind was an expression that I have always liked. Through my learning about the eastern religions, as well as my exposure to yoga over the years - both with my mother being a trained instructor and my own experience in various classes through the years - the word namaste came to mind.
Namaste means different things depending on who you ask. There is obviously a literal translation, and then there are different connotations depending on the situation in which it is used. But the meaning I have always found the most profound and inspirational is, "The spirit in me bows to the spirit in you," or "the spirit in me respects the spirit in you." To me that is one of the ideals of loving somebody, seeing the spirit that's inside them and not even finding it just appealing to you but almost finding it superior to you. You have found someone with whom you not only have solidarity, but you can learn from and grow with and be inspired by on a daily basis.
While I initially thought that might make a good gift, I ended up sitting on my hands for a long time. The more I thought about it, the more I started to doubt it. I don't think I even doubted it consciously so much, but it started to feel very heavy to me. It placed a lot of expectation. It was a big feeling to have and I wasn't positive, so I didn't do it. And I never ended up doing it - over three years of dating Keith. Even though at one point I had felt sure that it was what I wanted to do. I've been thinking about it a lot today. It's sad. Particularly the idea that maybe some part of me always knew from the beginning of that relationship that it wasn't 'the one'. That there were conflicts in our spirit, our humanity - the way that we approached the world. And I knew it consciously eventually, but I think I may have known it subconsciously long before. I realized that today, when I was thinking about the ring and how much I had longed to give it to him, and why I didn't.
When I think about it now, I think I still really long for that feeling. That connecting of spirit. And I'm starting to see its influence more. Not even just in any romantic relationships that I aspire to have, or have, or have had - but in all my relationships with people. I think one of the reasons I'm so honest and forthright, even when I first meet people, is because of the belief that being completely open and being myself in my most raw form is the way I'm most likely to find a response either positive or negative from other people, and hopefully eventually solidarity. I don't believe that if I show people something that's not true it will get me what I want in the end. Although, despite feeling that way, honesty is certainly a quality that's gotten me into trouble at different points in my life.
I can remember one instance in particular from the summer I was working on Capitol Hill, for Pelosi. It was a highly charged, highly politicized environment. Not just for the obvious reason of working in politics, but also amongst the army (25!) of interns that Pelosi employed. All of them were bright, ambitious young kids filled with energy who were trying to learn, have experiences, and contribute. And above all to be recognized for those contributions. There was a lot of 'feeling each other out' and trying to elevate our position through comparison. Yet there was also a great deal of commeraderie because we were all going through something together. And many of us were there for the same reason.
I was at a party. One of the Pelosi interns was staying with a family friend, rather than in student housing like most of the rest of us. His 'host family' had gone away for the weekend, leaving their palatial Georgetown mansion empty. We were all underage and couldn't ever BUY liquor, but a rich person's house offered a bounty of speakeasyesque options. The Pelosi interns raided the liquor cabinet, piled into the finished basement, and got drunk. At one point, we were playing a game I detest to this day for its ability to make everyone playing it feel completely immature and insecure - "Never Have I Ever." The oneupsmanship inherent to that game is an anathema to me. But I was playing nonetheless, and with my usual level of openness.
At one point, someone had offered the statement - "Never have I ever kissed someone of my own gender." Well those who know the story (not to be repeated here because it involves other people who might not want it exposed on the internet, at least one of whom probably still reads this blog) know that this meant I had to take a drink. Shockingly (given there were about 12 of us playing) I was the only one, and was then asked to tell the story. To me, it has always been a funny memory and a piece of evidence of the verve of youth, spent without fear of experiences (so long as the experiences didn't endanger me or anyone else). So I told the story expecting other people to see it as I saw it, and to share in a laugh with me. Instead, I received only judgment in reply. Nobody laughed, nobody even cracked a smile. I looked into their eyes and I thought, with horror, "These people are judging me." One person even said, "I can't believe that." I suddenly felt ashamed, and then angry (at myself for caring, and at them for making me feel that way). It made me feel doubt at parts of who I was that I should have been certain of. I was amazed that something that had been such a positive memory for me could be turned so quickly into something negative.
For weeks after the party, some of the kids who were there acted differently toward me. They excluded me from going out occasionally, or they whispered about me when they thought I wasn't paying attention. This one boy, who I had a huge crush on and who had been flirty with me before the party, stopped speaking to me beyond the socially required "Good morning" and "Goodbye" at the day's bookends. [[Funnily enough, I ran into him seven or eight months later at the Princeton debate tournament. He was a student there and I saw him on the quad between rounds. AWKWARD!]] Anyway, after this incident I started to feel seriously bad, and to doubt myself. I thought, "Maybe I should stop sharing things like this with people." But then I thought, "All that I am is the composite of experiences I have had throughout my life. They have shaped me into who I am today." What someone may see as youthful indiscretion I see as a useful piece of experimentation bringing me one step closer to knowing myself, and a funny memory to share with friends on top of that.
The idea of showing all yourself to people, both good and bad, is hard. You have to not care what people will think. I find it so frustrating, because I think the only way I get to namaste is by showing myself completely and truly. And looking deep into that reflecting pool for a spirit that I can bow to.