A twenty-something guy walked into the animal shelter to give back his 4-month old Pit Bull puppy. The puppy had never growled, bitten or shown any sign of aggression. The attendant asked, “So why are you abandoning him?” The guy snapped, “I’m NOT abandoning him, I’m returning him! I don’t like the way he looks at me!” When a woman brought her 5-year old Collie to an animal shelter to give him up, the reason that she gave was, “We just spent a lot of money having the house re-carpeted and the fur he sheds stands out too much against the color of the carpet! He just doesn’t match the new carpeting.” And finally, when a husband and wife brought their 12-year old German Shepherd to an animal shelter, the attendant asked, “Why?” The wife cheerily replied, “We want a new, younger model! Now that he’s not a puppy, he’s not as cute. He’s old and no fun anymore!” Staring at the embarrassed husband the attendant said, “You’d better not get any older!”
It is not only pets that we walk away from; we also choose to terminate, abandon, or even sabotage relationships with people. Why? There are probably as many answers to this question as there are to the number of broken relationships. But there does seem to be a common denominator to the dynamic of the break-up. We are often lured into a relationship through infatuation, the scintillating allure of the new, the unknown. At some point, though, the sparkle tarnishes, the new becomes the known, and the question arises: Why are we here? Sometimes, once the infatuation has run its course, some of us honestly don’t have an answer as to why we should stay! The disagreeable aspects of the other are so easy to enumerate and seem… to us… a reasonable reason to jump ship. Sometimes, the others’ sorrow threatens to drown us and we panic. And sometimes we run.
But running does not have to be the only option! A friend of mine who had to deal with his wife’s profound sorrow at miscarrying their child wrote to me and said, “As I’ve grown myself and gotten older I’ve found that I serve much more from a place of deep sorrow… but a place that, if I allow it to, makes me much more compassionate towards another. My own sorrow has made me really aware of the suffering of others.” In other words, my friend has learned to not be terrified by the presence of suffering, has learned that a relationship is not solely about the party, but is also about the cleaning up. He has learned to be willing to embrace the uncomfortable.
And, as any relationship progresses, what can be more uncomfortable than to become aware of feelings within us of which we are not proud? It is not a delight to honestly realize that one is capable of feeling petty and resentful, of being small-minded and spiteful, of wanting to abandon someone who we once could not get enough of! In our discomfort we sometimes blame the other for making us feel this way, and misguidedly think that were we to get away we would no longer “be like this.” But you know what? No matter how far we run… our feelings, no matter what has occasioned them, are still ours!
Life has a way of bringing us each to that point in our development where feelings need to be made to “grow up.” This can involve a lot of thrashing around, wailing and broken lamps, but we are blessed if someone who is further down the road than we are stays by our side to accompany us as we go through the travails of our transfiguration.
What if someone wanted to “return” us?