dear friend or perfect stranger
we're all ships that pass each other in the night
Ever so often I lie awake at night and think about how everyone in my life is a delicate product of chance, serendipity and agency. Of all the places I could’ve been, I was here. Of all the people I could have met, I met you.
I’m inherently romantic at heart and don’t hide it too well. But there’s always a tension between the romantic part of me that wants you to stay — and the deep, pragmatic side of me that knows there’s never a guarantee that anything will last.
Not chemistry. Not magnetism. Not the future, nor the past. Everything emerges according to context and serendipity. Our relationships either loosen or tether us closer. Ultimately, over long enough periods of time, everyone left is a dear friend or a perfect stranger.
There’s this saying I love, which is that some people in our lives are ships that pass in the night: people who encounter one another in a transitory, incidental manner and whose relationship is without lasting significance; two or more people who almost encounter one another, but do not do so. From a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: On the ocean of life we pass and speak one another / Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
That might sound sad: So many people I meet will forever remain strangers to me. There are so many people whose paths I will cross, but never meaningfully.
Strangely enough, it’s comforting. There’s a magical, silver lining. There are millions of lives happening simultaneously. Perhaps against all odds, two of those bright lives collide in a mysterious way.
Not all of it is chance. Some of it is showing up: nervously turning up at the party, floating through its dim amber rooms and its throngs of people. Seeking one kind face. A beautiful line from Scott Fitzgerald, I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.
But most of it is coincidence and serendipity: being in the same city in the same time. Finding one another in an unexpected corner of the world.
My whole life I’ve been seeking, seeking, seeking. What was I trying to find? The right quality of light? Ideal place? Perfect person? More recently I realized I can’t fully control when the right people show up in my life. All I can do is be truer to myself. Unapologetically myself. Incubating the hope that the right people will eventually find me. The challenge is equalizing the part of me that seeks to control everything with the part that knows everything unfolds in the way it should.
I need to live by one of my favorite quotes from the Count of Monte Cristo: all human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and Hope.’
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Yes, I write a lot about relationships because I believe it is the cornerstone of human flourishing. We only have one life — You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again (Achilles, in Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy). All I want is for it to be filled with good people.
The trick is to remain open, not get jaded. Intimacy requires vulnerability; reward requires risk.
From Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.
Accepting the risk of absence opens the door to every beautiful friendship and relationship. We could lose each other at any moment, but I’ll reach for you anyways.
Instead of being sad of all the people we miss, we lost, we should be thankful for those we have and love at this present moment. Because true connection is harder to find than we think.
Unfortunately sometimes we pass each other by and don’t look back. Or maybe we find each other, hold tight through the storm: for what we have is wonderful and rare.
Most of us are ships passing each other in the night. Others are safe harbours we return to again and again.
In a letter to Gustave Flaubert in 1870, George Sand wrote: Everyone is dying, everything is dying, and the earth is dying also. I don’t know where I get the courage to keep on living in the midst of these ruins. Let us love each other to the end.
Let us love each other to the end. That’s all we know how to do, right? Meeting you was an unlikely combination of fate, chance and agency. Against all odds, the right ships weather the storm. I think this all the time: the best people in my life feel like small miracles.
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I’ve realized that I can’t hold onto a static image of you. You can’t hold onto me either … I used to fear losing people so much. Now I realize we’re always losing each other regardless — the old versions of us never last. It’s a miracle that we find people we continuously choose over and over. The choice is active. Very alive.
Quotes of the Week
I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.
— John O'Donohue
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
— Excerpt from poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow