Column #3 for Motherland magazine

People can be difficult. They do annoying things. Their actions can be hurtful. I know this, because I’m a person. I can be difficult, annoying and hurtful. I can also, it seems, undertake great feats of mental agility. I realised this recently, and it’s not a talent I’d recommend. When a relationship – of any kind – is difficult, I have a real genius skill that picks out exactly what the other person is doing to make things difficult. Bravo, me. That is exactly the trap needed to crush any life out of the thing.

Because it is a trap. One of those ones hunters set up in the woods, covered with some autumn leaves, so the path looks perfectly in place and attractive, all those reds and yellows rotting in to each other. Until you step, and the iron jaws clench shut. And there I am, impaled in the middle, stuck in the bitterness and hurt of my own feelings. What makes it worse (yes, worse to come!) is that it’s a trap laid by none other than me.

When I was thinking about the difficulty of humans (conveniently placing myself momentarily out of that category), I suddenly had a picture of how my own heart looks when a relationship is tricky. And I realised this: if my heart becomes hardened to someone because of things I find difficult, then any life-giving seed they throw on to the patch won’t have a place to bed down and grow. I probably won’t even notice it, to be frank, because an expectation of them behaving in a certain way will have desensitised me. Also because, annoyingly, nature has it that life-giving seeds tend to be small and unobtrusive. And they don’t come with a Barbershop Quartet of emotions singing a jaunty alert, either (maybe to the tune of Happy Birthday: “Here’s a nice seed for you / Here’s a nice seed for you / Oh it looks like absolutely nothiiing… / But it’ll get big, it’s true”).

It’s much easier to spot stones, the destructive words or actions, because once they’re thrown your way, they just sit there, unless you clear them up. Which is why I’m thinking: if you don’t prepare the ground properly for a relationship, it won’t work very well. Obviously, some relationships aren’t going to work because of personality or circumstance, no matter how perfect either party is. But I’m talking about the ones we choose to invest in, the people we want to keep in our lives. Increasingly, then, I’m thinking that for relationships to work, I need to look at my own heart. It’s back to Digging In (Midweek Musings #1) – as if each relationship has a plot of land within me. If my heart becomes rough ground, if I don’t work hard to be receptive to the good, then I’m not giving the other person a chance to plant into the relationship. All I’ll see is the negative aspects.

If the soil isn’t tilled for my own weeds – you know, envy, pride, self-serving thoughts, insecurity – the seeds won’t have a place to land. If I’m not conscious of filtering out the negativity, of weeding out the stones, then there won’t be room for the good. When that happens, all I’ll end up with is a Stonehenge monument to what the other person’s failings are towards me. The irony of that? It confirms all the blame I can handily draw on as to why the relationship is dissatisfactory – without looking at my own hands and noting they haven’t done much work on the ground recently.

Keeping your heart ready for another’s good means that no matter how teeny that good thing is, you can appreciate it. No room for offence, so lob that stone out as fast as it arrives. And after a while, if you look at the relationship plot and see that despite digging and making it ready, nothing much is growing, then at least you can know truly that moving on from that person is a good step. That the direction you’re going in isn’t dictated by the shadow of ancient rubble that obscures the part you’re playing in this too. And it does cast a long shadow. So, between living under that, and being impaled in the jaws of contemplating the perceived failings of others, I’ve opted just to get on with weeding. Seems better, somehow.

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