Relationship Moving from Story to Experience

This week, Carol writes about her recent 10-day demonstration of how action transforms relationships from remembered stories into vivid present experiences.

October 19, 2021

The pandemic interrupted many of my relationships. In September, I got brave enough, and vaccinated enough, to visit friends and family up the East Coast.

The stories of my relationships can be complicated.  With three marriages, I have more than the usual variety of in-laws, step-children, step-step-children, nieces and nephews, as well as their parents, mates, and offspring.  Fortunately for me, those relationships begun by my marriages were not broken by divorce. 

I started with Aimee, my biological daughter, who lives in Portland, Maine, with her love, Daniel, and her big, bouncy, super-friendly dog, Rufus. Aimee and I headed out to a “camp” beside a gorgeous “pond,” Maine-speak for a cottage on a small lake. At Thomas Pond we enjoyed swimming, kayaking, playing cards at night, and hiking in mature pine and hardwood forest. 

Our host at Thomas Pond was Jim, and here’s where the story of relationship seems far more complicated than the present experience. Jim was the first husband of my husband Paul’s late wife, Bonnie, who died the year before Paul and I met. As a story, that’s a mouthful. But the experience of this relationship is straightforward: Jim is the father of Rebecca, Paul’s stepdaughter, and another grandfather of the two beloved grandchildren in our lives. We’re connected to Jim, not through marriages that ended two and four decades ago, but by the present experience of loving our shared family.

It’s a love of those same people that I share with Bev, my next host. Like me, Bev has a deep love for Rebecca, whom she has known since birth, and for Rebecca’s children, who I claim as grandchildren. You see, Bev and Rebecca’s mother, Bonnie, were friends from grade school till Bonnie died. Bev welcomed our relationship because she was happy to see Paul loving and being loved even though grieving deeply for Bonnie. Now Bev feels like my own dear friend.

Next I went to Harpswell, to re-experience my friendship with Barbara and Steve. We have a long story together, beginning in 1977 when Barbara and I were both young lawyers.  Our shared story includes weddings, births of children and grandchildren, and family holiday celebrations.  All that story came to life in the experience of being together in her home in Maine.

I added a stop in Boston so that I could experience my relationship with relatives from my first two marriages. The first relationship-story is that Ruth is the sister of my first husband, Mark; so we are the aunts of each other’s children. Being in Ruth’s house brought to life my relationship with her and her husband Bill, and with her daughter and son, and their children, my great nieces and great nephews, including Eli, who strikingly reminded me of my own son, Andrei, at age 12.

My final stop was with my stepson Tim. Tim’s father, Ned, is the father of my two younger children. Lots of story of relationship there! But I hadn’t seen Tim in over 14 years. My tentative voice mail to Tim asking if I might see him on my trip elicited a warm invitation to brunch at his home with his wife and three children. The years of Christmas cards, and hearing about Tim from my children, his half-siblings Teddy and Aimee, had sustained the story of our relationship.  Our visit re-kindled the experience of loving, of true family.

I am left with the sharp awareness that without my action of communicating with these people and getting myself on airplanes and buses, these relationships would have remained stories in memory – not living, present experiences.

The short flight home once again turned a story of relationship into experience: at the arrivals door of National Airport, the story, “My husband and my puppy are waiting at home,” transformed into the warmth of Paul’s neck against my cheek, and a whole lot of yips and barks and licks and nips from Molly – the experience of HOME.

~ Carol

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