close enough to see you sweat

objects appear differently in close proximity than they do when they are gazed at from afar.

the first time i was given the opportunity to watch a professional ballet company rehearse, i sat in the studio in awe. with no stage/audience separation and only the rehearsal piano as accompaniment, i was shocked at how loud and “clunky” toe shoes sound against a wood floor. the feats which had seemed effortless from far away took on a different look and feel when i heard the loud “clomp” of toe shoe hitting ground. the sweat soaking through the the dancer’s warm ups belied the effort with which they danced and their deep breaths were audible upon exertion. similarly, i recently attended a small studio concert of a favorite local band. i had never before heard (or even noticed) the hollow and audible breaths the cello players took as they gave themselves to the songs they played. within this tiny shared space these “from the deepest place within the player” inhales and exhales were reminiscent of those of the best yoga teachers who make their breathing audible to model for their students. while at first i was distracted, as i sat taking it in, the breath became a beautiful part of the playing and i felt sad when it was missing in the recording i listened to on the way home.

closeness gives the gift of authenticity. the closer i allow you to be to me the more you know about my internal values and external traits. authenticity means letting you experience the less than perfect parts of me. it doesn’t allow me to appear as though i dance through life making only light landings or that i don’t show signs of exertion when i try hard at things. when you’re close you see me sweat. or say stupid (or inaccurate) things.  

this is, of course, too simplistic. authenticity can be lived out even when space separates the viewer and the viewed. the hearer and the heard. and so on. closeness, however, has a way of forcing the issue of what is actual. when i keep you at a distance, i feel as though i have so much greater control of that which you see. when we communicate only via channels that allow me to maintain distance i can pick and choose what i reveal. when i merely “update” you instead of sharing time and space with you, i have the luxury of things seeming the way i’d like them to seem. i can edit and place emphasis on that which i would like you to notice.

no one is more guilty of this than me. i share in a seemingly basic and automatic human drive to put one’s best foot forward. the world of social networks, of texting over talking, and of having access to a world of information and entertainment 24 hours a day has only made this drive a more viable opportunity. if we are lonely there’s little need to “expose” this to others when we can simply numb ourselves with a constant flow of youtube clips and netflix queues. when we feel insecure we can torture ourselves by trolling everyone else’s perfect lives on facebook, reinforcing our tendency to keep making space, or amass “positive feedback” by sharing an easily likable status update. when we’re angry at being let down, a text can communicate so much more “cleanly” than our voices ever could.

and yet...what are we missing out on?

in the recording studio the band can “quiet down,” or eliminate all together, the breath of the musicians and the sounds that distract from the desired impact of the recording. the seeming effortlessness of a professional ballet performance is aided by the distance between the dancers and their audience and grand musical scores which drown out the sounds of heaving and landing and breathing like an athlete.

do we really desire a relational landscape where these “edits” and altered realities are all we know of others or allow others to know of us? sure, no one “deserves” access to your internal world without having earned it. too-much-too-soon vulnerability is rarely a good idea. boundaries are important for a reason and we all need some moments of seemingly flawless spectacle to entertain us now and again. even still, i respect ballet dancers so much more since i’ve seen the state of their feet, heard the weight of their leaps land abruptly on hard ground, and seen the strain of exertion that lies only barely behind their pleasant expressions. i listen with greater interest to the music made by cellists now that i have witnessed, up close, the embodied-ness with which they play. i am grateful for these opportunities to understand more fully the reality that goes into the gifts these artists give us.

i am similarly grateful to those of you who allow closeness. mine and yours. each of us has a gift (or gifts) to give the world and only rarely is that gift one that is spot-able from a distance. more often than not it’s something much more subtle that can’t be seen from far away. frequently you might not even see it as a gift but, to me, knowing that you sweat too, that your body feels jarred when you land, and that your breath is labored when you try hard is a relief and inspiration beyond all others. so i will keep making efforts to present my authentic self rather than my distanced, staged, status conscious one and will gladly welcome yours.