Yes, relationships are hard. There’s no denying it. It’s hard to stay sane when there are so many pressures on people to achieve those standards that they set for themselves and that the world thrusts upon them. Relationships are a minefield, a labyrinth fraught with dangers at every turn and we are our own worst enemies when it comes to being successful at this business of sustaining successful partnerships.
Fedler and Friedman’s book doesn’t deny any of this. In fact, the book pays homage to the way that people connect despite their contrariness and how we persist at trying to maintain these connections in the face of all sorts of trauma and drama.
These authors have done a wonderful job of making the thing that stymies so many of us, that big elephant of intimacy in the lives of so many, into something tangible, approachable and normal and it is this that lies at the heart of this book. So often we feel alone and isolated, struggling through the mire of life on a solo voyage and what Fedler and Friedman do is bring company to our journeys. We are never alone. Whatever you are experiencing, there is someone else with more of it or with less of an ability to deal with it.
Not only is this book poignant on so many different levels, but the authors have introduced some incredibly addictive characters to explore the issues that form the basis of their concern – I loved these people, I loved reading about their lives, understanding their relationships and seeing how they interacted with each other. I loved the buoyancy of their exchanges and the way that they managed to negotiate each other in such a sensitive fashion. There is one moment in the text where one character peeks through the window to watch a struggling pair communicate on the street outside: I felt exactly like this character throughout the book … here I was, peering through the crack in the blinds, watching these people fight, make up, go to therapy and confess their darkest fears. I wanted more. I want more!! I loved the priest/counsellor who ended his sessions with a prayer, inviting God into the couple’s world to help solve their problems. I loved the gay couple, struggling through the dynamic of the desires of one to be a parent, I loved the cheating husband who so loved his wife but felt worn down by her distraction. Each of these characters has been so carefully painted and explored and each brings such depth to what would otherwise be quite a dull book, something more in line with an inane pop-psychology waffle.
Dare I say it, but even more than these quirky individuals, I loved the way that Fedler and Friedman littered their observations with insights in the form of tales from different cultures. I found these excursuses as enlightening as the book itself! Each brought such an intense flavour to the text, I can only explain properly by sharing one:
“Many years ago, in the time of the Buddha, Kisa Gotami, the wife of a wealthy man, lost her only son who died in his sleep. The poor woman was so overcome with grief she went to the Buddha and begged him to bring her son back to life. He agreed, on condition that she bring him back a handful of mustard seeds from a family that had not lost a beloved one. She was overjoyed and set off on her quest to find these mustard seeds. She knocked on the door of the first home and told her story, asking for a handful of mustard seeds, which the owner happily gave to her. ‘Oh, and just one more thing – no one has died in your home, have they?’ At this, the woman’s face fell. ‘Yes, just last week, my beloved father died.’ Sadly, Kisa Gotami returned the mustard seeds and went to the next house. At each house, she found that someone had lost a person they loved; in every face she found a mirror of the grief on her own. And so she went from home to home, realising that she was not alone in her suffering, and she returned to the Buddha, awake. Through the worst grief that broke her, she was broken open into enlightenment.”
So I say thank you to Joanne Fedler and Graeme Friedman for breaking me into enlightenment.