On the lessons we learn as we age

One of the interesting things about getting older is that you learn. You actually do learn. People older than you always talk about this learning experience, but it’s hard to believe until you see it for yourself. You actually learn things about the world as you grow older.

For instance, I once believed that for two people who love each other – siblings, friends, lovers – it would be impossible to have a disagreement so severe they could not come to some kind of reconciliation through conversations, arguments, or therapy.

This, I have learned, is false.

You’re probably shaking your head at me right now. How could you have ever believed such a silly thing, Amira? I know. In retrospect it seems very silly. But I believed it. I genuinely believed two people who had the same goal would always be able to come to a reconciliation. I believed there could be an outcome with no leftover guilt, all words and feelings spoken out and true, no secret bitterness carried forth into the years.

In some ways…I still believe it. Perhaps if we all just practice the art of meditation, obliterate our sense of duality and separation between self and other, and completely eviscerate and destroy the ego, we will arrive at the point where my innocent faith is possible.

But without those mystical skills, this dream is not to be.

I think I’ve had maybe six or seven of these arguments in my life. The kind where you know afterwards – or sometimes, as it’s happening – that you’ve lost a friend or lover. Or at least your relationship will never be the same.

There are irreconcilable arguments. There are fights that leave bite marks in your soul. There are words so hurtful even you wish you could swallow them back into your chest, like Cronus who devoured his own children, afraid of the prophecy that one day they would ruin him. (Our words will ruin us.) There are differences in perspective and worldview so slight that at first glance they seem indistinguishable, but over time can lead first to chafing, then to anger, finally to earthquakes.

Sometimes the reconciliation is just to forget about it. To leave it in the past. To agree to disagree, which really means, “to stop hurting each other.”

And all this between two people who love each other. What hope is there for peoples who stand on opposite sides of the cavernous rifts created by culture, geography, language or religion?

Another lesson I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is, when they say “time heals all wounds,” they’re not lying, but they’re not telling the whole truth. They left out the part that goes, “but you never know what will scar.”

I crashed my bike in a cycling accident when I was twenty years old. (I’m not a very good cyclist.) I had cuts, scrapes, and abrasions all over my body. Mysteriously, only one stayed behind: a scrape on the inner bone of my left wrist. The mark is prominent; it protrudes up off of my skin. It looks like a worse injury than it was. Every other cut healed perfectly. Only that one remains.

Why? Why that one? Maybe one of my doctor friends can explain how scar tissue works and why that particular wound was more likely to linger.

Or maybe it doesn’t really matter why. Maybe all that matters is you never know what’s going to stay and what’s going to fade.

Relationships are hard. Language isn’t perfect. Our egos get in the way. We let people hurt us and we hurt them in return. We blind ourselves to the realities of the situation, measuring our loved ones against impossible standards – impossible mostly because we are too close to the other person to judge them objectively. Are they loving us too much? Not enough? Are they ignoring our needs or co-dependent? Doting? Controlling? Kind? Obsessive? Giving? Demanding?

Ultimately, we’re all just trying to be. But still, those disagreements happen. Those earth-shaking disagreements that make you question. Is this right? Is this the end? Are we okay, or not okay? Will we come out of this? Will we be okay? Will we be?

Sometimes the pain fades. Sometimes it never does. The scar on my wrist from that bike accident still twinges occasionally, though the rest of my wounds have healed so perfectly I don’t even know where they were. As for the fights – I can look back on some of them and they don’t hurt anymore. Some I can even see as a good thing, in the grand scheme – friends who stunted my growth, lovers who didn’t fit at my side. Time does heal.

But sometimes, it leaves traces behind.

‘No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….’

John Donne, Meditation 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions