When our lives go through any kind of massive change, it shifts all (and yes, I mean ALL) relationships. Massive change can mean many things for different people, but I think that we pretty much all agree that becoming injured or sick (or both), moving far away, becoming hitched (or unhitched), gaining a baby (one way or another) and losing a job or a loved one, rank up there among the biggest.
Human beings love status quo, they love continuity and stability, and they love connectedness and relationship with other like minded beings. These things are by no means selfish, they are about our primal survival, and are pretty well recognised as being universal, basic, life giving needs. The massive changes above are traumatic enough for the people who are directly affected, however they are also the arch enemies of these needs. They threaten relationships, belonging, stability and friendships, at very deep levels.
Throughout both my expat/TCK and Chronic Condition communities, I hear about the affects of these every single day. I hear the “why?” over and over again. Hiccups and changes in life happen to everyone all the time, but usually the massive permanent changes throughout a life can be counted on one hand. For these two communities however, they add a whole new level of extra massive changes, that be counted on both hands or more, and the effects therefore are far more life altering.
This is the basics of how I believe it works:
Imagine for a moment a very steep mountainside (like this one I took from my hotel room yesterday!). Now imagine that there are many paths or roads that travel across the face of said mountain. Some do but many never intersect, and it is not impossible to climb the cliff face between the roads, but it is beyond the ability of the average person to do so. The perception of the world in general is that rightly or wrongly, the higher the road the better and moving left to right is better. So regardless of which road you started (or were born on), whether it starts high up or from deep in the valley, the world crowd is constantly moving left to right, on a slightly upwards trajectory, often looking up with envy, and down with distaste.
When two people are bound in relationship through a shared need, path, direction, desire we don’t realise how much of that relationship is bound to an implied loyalty that is way deeper and stronger than our professed loyalty. For each of us there is an implied perception that this relationship is “different” and “special”. That the things that others squabble over will have no effect on us. A promise that we will build each other up when we walk our path beside each other, that we will pick each other up when we stumble and that as we each face the pebbles and potholes of the same road together, our camaraderie is what gets us through. This promise is tested and won each and every day, as one of us stumbles, becomes ill for a few days and the other picks us up well …and as we both look up and dream of ways to climb up the cliff to the higher road, and seek hidden paths to get there, our bond solidifies. We share more than just where we are, ….we share our dreams for where we are going.
If we are the kind of person always looking for the secret shortcut up and the person beside us only ever watches their feet, one step in front of the other, then we will move on to find a different kindred spirit right? Two heads are better than one and all that and we both want the same thing. As for the person who believes that slow and steady wins the race, they are likely to team up with someone of like mind, so that they can encourage each other rather than be belittled, and enjoy the journey as it is, smelling the roses and making the most of life. We find and build relationships with those who’s values, philosophies, dreams and desires fuel our own.
But what happens when only one of us gets hit by a bus and can’t take another step for a while? What if one of us trips and falls off the edge of the road, down the mountain side and landing on a “lower” path? What if our team finds one of those elusive short cuts but it turns out that it is lined with barbed wire and one of us is not prepared to go that far as to take the risk of hurting themselves on the journey? What if only one of us gets hitched and starts to belong to another team as well so the pace changes, or they have a baby which slows our journey down?
Every single major change causes a shift whether we want it to or not. The relationship is changed one way or another and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. And when that happens to one of us, the other is forced to make a choice. They have to choose whether to climb down that cliff after their friend and also walk a completely different journey from now on. They have to choose whether or not to face the barbed wire and the very real chance that maybe only one of them will actually make it up a level and that the other could fail and lose everything. They have to face the very real possibility that a different path is not just a pipe dream or a dreaded “lower” path, but that if it becomes a reality, it will also involves losing the other people who have so far walked our same path and who suddenly don’t look so awful after all, that just maybe we do quite like being the tortoise rather than the hare…