Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Boundaries: Awareness and detection, and the unusual benefits of sometimes crossing over...

Wiktionary online defines a boundary as:

"The dividing line or location between two areas."
The plural of course is boundaries, meaning more than one in some type of configuration to enclose a thing or things, or to repel a thing or things. So, it either embraces or pushes away, to protect or deny the crossing over of something or someone into an area or place that is off limits, whether well marked or not.

Humanity has created a lot of those from the earliest beginnings. They can be good things or, like anything else, they can be not so good things. It all depends on perspective and the perception of where the "line" falls, depending on point of view. Boundaries can be inocuous, invisible in fact. Like you don't press your luck by picking your nose at the dinner table or else you have crossed the "line" and get sent to your room for bad behavior in front of others, but most especially in front of people we care about. Most recently, the debate has been growing in the news about immigration boundaries. That is only one kind of boundary. It can be made of nothing but a line on a map, or a river or a mountain range, or it can be a Berlin Wall or a lot of razor wire trying to keep a people out of one place so the people in that place can feel comfortable, regardless of the misery on the other side. Keeping the status quo, whatever you want to call it. We tried that inside our own boundaries with racism, among other things...it didn't work though there are some vestiges of it here and there. There will always be someone setting a boundary somewhere. It's unavoidable, whether on a large, global scale or inside our own bathrooms: this is your side of the sink and this is my side, ok? Ok.

There are less tangible boundaries as well. These are harder to define, harder to see or be aware of. They cause a whole different sort of dispute, anguish and loss. Yeah, loss. Deep, painful, irreconcilable loss, or so it seems at the time. I have been experiencing a variety of losses this last year. Some tangible, some rather intangible and less easy to remedy; some that are downright confusing and invisible. Some boundaries are set like boobytraps or landmines; you don't know you have tripped them until someone tells you, then it can be too late, and a relationship is out the window, down the cliff, no toeholds and no lifeline. You can call for help, confess you didn't know "it" was there but the deaf ear has been turned and no matter how hard you confess, repent, do penance, self-flagellate, drown in remorse, you cannot be heard...no, you will not be heard because the person who set the boundary and didn't tell you about it, acts as if you should have known something or read their mind or whatever. All of this in spite of their complaining, grumbling and anger at not being able to do something about the issue. Who was to know that "it" had a forcefield around it that you could not see much less know about?

Recounting losses for a moment: I lost my mom last spring due to the body just wearing out and the decision not to fight anymore. It was hard; we were close, but she knew she would be crossing the boundary from life--such as it was--to a new place. Not everyone believes in a "somewhere else" after this life. And that's ok. She anticipated the crossing; she knew it would be there and she welcomed the trip. Sometimes boundaries are hard to cross because of the frailty of the human condition. The physicality can be a problem but the mind and soul is free to come and go as it pleases during that "thin place" in our lives. So, she took care of business and went, crossed life to death. I crossed a boundary too. From having a constant in my life to a constant that no longer existed for me. I crossed from caregiver/daughter to woman/alone. It has been quite the journey and its only really begun. I did not begrudge mom her journey as it healed her in the only way available to her type of suffering and pain. But a new suffering and pain began for me, physically and mentally. About seven months later I felt I could face life again on an entirely new plane. I probably passed many a boundary on the way from there to here without even noticing. I knew I could be happy if I let myself have that, happiness. I am still giving myself permission...

There is another kind of loss that I have alluded to earlier, and that is the harder to define kind of loss. No ONE has died but a thing that existed between two people has been lost. Friendship is a tenuous thing at its best moments, much less at any other time. It can be slow to grow or burst out to fullness at a moment's notice. Very unpredictable stuff. Unpredictable but wonderful stuff. Not only is it possible for you to grow as a person in the presence of a friend but the other friend can grow too, not to mention the relationship itself. I had a friendship with someone, based on the love of Christ and mutual interests. A good basis for any friendship. The love of Christ isn't always an obvious ingredient in all friendships but it helps if the people involved are spiritual types, which we were, me and my friend.

If there were boundaries, and there most likely were, either we were consciously aware of them or unconsciously. For instance, as you are just getting to know someone, you don't off the bat ask them a lot of personal questions. Why? Because there are social boundaries that say those sorts of things are not done initially. One must wait until a comfort level has been established and then tentative questions can be alluded to more easily. Let's assume for space sake, that time has passed, the comfort level is well established and we can ask each other virtually anything, everything is allowed, nothing is taboo. Ok. A routine is settled into of discussions, phone calls, emails, text messages, et al. We reach the stage where we can grip and hiss and spit about things that bother us about work, people, family, friends, politics, music, books, the entire gamit of possiblities. We occasionally, if rarely, get into a tiff and perhaps argue or bitch at each other a little but we end up forgiving and making up because we really didn't mean to come off as, well, bitchy. This understanding deepens an already solid friendship and life moves along.

What we don't know is that one of us has erected a few invisible boundaries along the way, set a landmine [ok, maybe if fell out of the back of a Honda or something...] and the driver of the Honda didn't know she was laying a landmine that would eventually claim part of her friend who--wouldn't for the price of gold on today's market--do a thing intentionally to cause the Honda driver pain or anguish in any form. But there it is, waiting to go off. Let's call the unsuspecting friend a Bimmer driver. Honda has complained and wept about how someone in her family has not returned calls regarding Honda's father who is ill. The bitter anguish and irritation is quite evident to Bimmer.

Bimmer, perhaps not thinking the entire idea through to include consequences for Honda, decides to contact Honda's sister and kindly ask her to stay in touch more with Honda about the mutual dad. She is hoping that said sister will have the intelligence to understand that Honda doesn't know of the contact by Bimmer because Bimmer wants Honda to think it was all the sister's idea and brilliant brainstorm to be more communicative.


Bimmer is understanding the consequences of clueless sisters as we read this blog. She is also understanding the boundary that was not seen or heard until the landmine went off. Honda is very unhappy and now won't talk to Bimmer. Life can really suck. And that is putting it mildly. There was a boundary that Honda had set but Bimmer was unaware of. Boy, is she aware of it now, now when it is almost too late to do anything about it. These are the boundaries that can kill and maim the heart and soul of individuals and relationships. It is too bad Bimmer didn't have a boundary detector or a sign to warn her away. I guess it has created in Bimmer an awareness of boundaries not considered before in friendship.

I am aware of them in chaplaincy work however, which I do on a volunteer basis. We know as chaplains that the patient room is a sacred space, not to be entered into lightly. We prepare ourselves for the entry and the exit in such a way that while we are there we are truly not our normal selves but we are changed by the suffering that goes on within; we are changed by suffering itself, whether it is we who suffer or someone else, whether we know who is suffering or if the person suffering is a stranger. Regardless, suffering happens, whether we like it or not. Knowledge is gained from suffering, it refines us and makes us better people. We learn not only about others but about ourselves, and in so doing, we grow and are stretched, sometimes beyond what we think we can endure. Suffering and the knowledge it brings to the table can deepen relationships and even deepen love and compassion for others.

Suffering knows no boundary. It can enclose us or we can try to create boundaries to repel it. But if we try to repel it all the time, we never learn a thing. I have learned much in the past six months from Honda. I would say to Honda--if I could--that maybe we were both supposed to learn something but not let it destroy the bond we had, which was strong and good and real. I can hope that it will be repaired and we can start over again at some point. I hope Honda thinks so too.

Boundaries: the good and bad, the visible and invisible, the tangible and intangible. They exist but can be changed for the better so that the maiming and the suffering can be kept to a minimum. I urge us all to be more aware of boundaries and the losses or blessings they can incur.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Wow...that's quite the diatribe, lots of truth. I'll need to do a re-read to let it fully sink in.
I'm thinking that maybe what's partly responsible for the confusion about boundaries is the way we tend to communicate these days, via email, text messages, IM's, etc, like you were talking about. All of those methods lack the same thing, the ability to convey tone, mood, intent. I think we need to be picking up the phone more so that we can hear the other's voice, or sitting down with our friends in person to share a cup of coffee or tea, and to see the expression upon one another's face.
Damn the age of technology! ;-)