When I was six, my parents were getting divorced. I was unaware of the growing gaps in their relationship. I found blissful ignorance playing with my Micronaut toys. My family’s nuclear rift went unnoticed as I imagined gigantic adventures on miniature worlds. Decades later, I see the parallels between cosmic, microscopic, and personal spaces. Planets, particles, and people drawn close by mass, charge, or other compelling forces interact without actually touching. With all the stuff in the universe, I believe it is the space between that matters most. It is the promise of the unexplored and potential of the unknown that binds everyone together.
In high school, I fell in love. We passed each other like comets – infrequent yet familiar. One summer, we shared a retreat. Isolated together, we grew close. She was insightful and sincere and I liked the way she laughed. So I did what any awkward teenager would; I asked her to be my girlfriend with a sappy note while a love song played on the radio. I hoped she would yield to my affection’s massive pull. Of course, she said no.
Despite the gravity of her rejection, life went on. We spent our senior year in a few common classes, at the same events, never together. I started to accept we were “just friends.” So when she asked me to prom, I had to convince myself it wasn’t a date. We went to celebrate four years with our classmates – better alone together then lonely apart. It wasn’t. I was confused about her intentions yet couldn’t approach her with my re-emerging feelings. I was physically near to her though an emotional distance remained. I spent the entire night unsure of how I should act. By the next day at Six Flags, her body language was telling me that I must have done something wrong. We didn’t talk much after that. And weeks later, we graduated. I haven’t seen her since.
I’ll never know what she expected of that night. We had made a connection, however brief, based on mutual acquaintances, quirky humor, and irregular interactions. We knew each other well enough to be attracted. We were serious friends, sharing confidences and loving life. Perhaps I violated a boundary, crossed a breach where our nuclear spaces should never overlap. Our bond was too weak and we repelled.
Maybe that’s what happened with my Mom and Dad. Having filled the space between them with work, romance, dreams, and demands, it is possible their loving intimacy eventually revealed bitter breaks. Their orbits became unstable; their system collapsed.
I believe that people, like planets, particles, or places, all need the proper spaces to keep us apart while holding us together. The moon itself will drift away or come crashing down if it is a bit too far or a tad too close. As a teacher, I’ve learned that the unknown is even more important than the known. It is the lack, the nothingness, the need that drives us forward, always seeking.
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