“A toothache is not necessarily diminished by our knowledge of its causes.”
– T.S. Eliot
Last week, I was flipping through a copy of Psychology Today. One article caught my attention. The author was describing signs of healthy relationships. For example, in healthy relationships, partners support each other’s opportunities for growth, or they frequently touch each other in non-sexual ways. They share their emotions. These all seem like valuable facets of any romantic relationship, but the one that stood out was the first one: “People in thriving relationships take on each other’s habits, interests, and mannerisms.” They become more like one another. And while the author was talking about this in the context of romantic relationships, I thought of the myriad ways I’ve seen this happen to me with friends and family also.
I thought of how I was never much more than a Caribou Coffee drinker until my friend Alli told me about a new shop with a lot of buzz called Kopplin’s. It was that time of Spring where it’s still cold enough that you wear a coat but warm enough that you insist on having it unzipped. I ventured down Hamline with three friends – Kirby, Cassie, and Amy – and though we were in the right place, we couldn’t find it. We looped the block several times, but it was hidden between a burger joint and a bowling alley. (We ended up driving over to the Spyhouse instead.) Eventually I made it down there and it’s been my favorite ever since.
I thought of how I wouldn’t be a whiskey drinker if it wasn’t for Taylor sizing me up and saying, “I’m guessing you’re a whiskey guy.”
“I guess so,” I think I said.
I would never have been a runner if Carica hadn’t asked me to train for a 5k with her so she could get back into shape after her pregnancy. I took up table tennis because Ashley beat me in a game during her orientation weekend at Northwestern, and in my (sexist) embarrassment I trained with Jared as often as I could until I got good at the game. By then I enjoyed it too much to stop.
One afternoon during my freshman year at Northwestern, a girl named Lauren challenged me to a race. We walked to the back parking lot the students called Purgatory since it had a clear straightaway. It was early October but the weather was warm: leaves had only slowly started accumulating along the curbs. Afterwards, we walked towards the dining hall to find a group of people playing Ultimate Frisbee so we joined in and played terribly. Frisbee has been a part of my life ever since.
I could go on. I never took cooking very seriously until Beka bragged about her family meals to me and started sharing recipes. That passion took another step forward when I discovered how the process of cooking and sharing a meal with someone can be connecting, encouraging, and in some ways healing. I learned that from Leigh. Psychology meant little to me until Keuning’s enthusiasm spilled over during Social Psychology. That probably would have dried up like a raisin if not for Joel and our endless conversations about the mind and motivations. I’m still not sure we’ve ever agreed on any of it.
We too often think of giving of ourselves as a physical metaphor, a zero-sum game. If I give to you, I no longer have it for myself. And in some ways that’s true. But clearly giving in this case is more like tipping a flame into an unlit candle. (I suddenly realize I am borrowing that image from William Penn, who puts it far better than I: “Such a disposition is like lighting another man’s candle by one’s own, which loses none of its brilliancy by what the other gains.”) Or maybe it’s like a needle and thread, passing through different pieces of fabric and binding them together. Who knows how far that thread stretches beyond me. It may be a little bit sentimental, but it’s certainly fun to think about.