Sometimes you are very aware of what separates you from others.
There is a new drama on television about a man who killed the women he was close to, described by the estimable David Chater in The Times as “hideous and detached from any normal human behaviour”. But somebody thought he was normal |(it’s a dangerous word) and of course we often do, until it is proved otherwise. There are painful examples of the gap: a woman sent to an experimental school as an orphaned ten year old, discovering 30 years later that both her brothers were abused by it, in the name of liberation: or the man giving evidence of his wife’s mistreatment of their child.
Sometimes the gap is about culture: as a European woman smiling at an Islamic woman and being met by a stony glare. One is not to know if her shoes hurt or she feels badly about anyone who is not discernibly her own, but we have to start somewhere and the start is almost always personal.
I suppose the gap is really another way of saying how separate we may feel, one from another. The above are highly coloured examples. You may just be very different people. And for some reason, the gap is unbridgeable.
I met a woman of my own age through a mutual friend. She came to supper and then returned the hospitality. I am fine when I am with her. Apart from that
I have an overwhelming sense of being marked – as at school – “ must try harder”. However the treasured mutual friend (treasured by us both I may say) simply remarked, “ I like strong elderly women but they don’t always like each other. Indeed sometimes you can just see the “No thank you” ballooning above the head.” No harm done there then.
If you live alone, closing the gap can be a formality. You are not looking for (ghastly but expressive phrase) a new best friend. You just want to speak to somebody, and if Dame Fortune smiles and you are lucky, you can natter about where you got your gloves or what’s in the paper. The sense of belonging in the world can be reaffirmed without difficulty on either side before you say goodbye and let each other go.
After years and years of getting up and going into a workplace, and living in a family, it is in the mornings sometimes, not always that I long for a human voice. This is not anything grand or complicated, not incipient depression or a crisis of identity.. I just want somebody to tell me I am still there.
Deeply self-sufficient people never feel like this. So-called moderns will find an app to meet the need. Sounds like cold comfort to me. I prefer to take my chances with the postman, somebody in a shop, or I meet in the street. And the meeting can be very brief, as short as almost brushing shoulders with somebody and sharing a grin. The manners of greeting are dented by being plugged in, tired and often horribly dissociated. It is noticeable that as technology becomes more and more common, people are not only switched off from other people because they are switched on to some machine, but the sense of space we used to call body territory is being damaged too. People push past, walk too close, slam into you – ranging from unaware to hostile by virtue of self involvement.
You can be very grateful for a gap. It can separate you from somebody you really don’t want to be close to. You may know why, you may have to think about it (or not want to) and an answer isn’t guaranteed.
I am eternally grateful to my mother for telling me when I came to London at 17 telling me “Play your hunches, play your hunches, play your hunches. Work out why you feel what you feel later on if you can but don’t ignore your feelings. “ Years later an American writer called Gavin de Becky wrote a book called The Gift of Fear, on just the same subject.
I spent years acknowledging there was a gap (school taught me that) and then bridging it. Invited as a speaker to an association of assertiveness trainers, late in the meeting one of them commented that I was a bridge. I loved that label then and I love it now. I loved the idea that people could make use of a voice on the radio to resolve difficulty, face the music and go forward, be happier, do better. And I speak as a woman who walked beside another much taller younger Brazilian down a dark street in a section of the city I don’t know and we talked, she on her way to a party, me on my way to supper with friends. In farewell she kissed me goodbye on both cheeks., thus giving me an early birthday present. She crossed the gap.