Meet you in the Overlap

I both connected and didn’t on my recent trip to my hometown. Sometimes it was as if there was a sheet of glass between me and the things I should have felt some connection to. I could see them but I couldn’t “touch” them. There were people I encountered I felt the same way about.

But that’s really how it always is, most of the time. If you see yourself with a degree or better of objectivity, you’ll probably agree that most of the time we’re isolated, right in the midst of the crowd. Only when we share certain overlapping states of mind do we really feel connected. This goes for family; for wives and husbands; for parents and children; for best friends, too.

It’s a hard thing to express, in brief, but it seems important, seems very much “of the essence” of human life. Of course, an obvious societal corollary would be in diplomacy–diplomats are well aware that in trying to bridge political and cultural gaps, one usually starts by finding points of commonality, and there always are some. Everyone needs to eat; everyone needs shelter; most everyone is concerned with protecting family, beliefs, property, basic rights. The disagreement arises in deciding what “protecting” might mean, where property begins and ends, and so on. Diplomats find ways, though, to find commonality, and over time can sometimes bring about peaceful resolution by simply arranging for people in opposition to see each other’s commonality, however limited it might be. Two chieftains meeting each other’s families are more likely to experience overlap, a simple state of mind that is a kind of medium for shared experience. In it, somewhere, is a spark of real oneness.

Now, the same phenomenon takes place in the home, sometimes almost at random, sometimes arranged by ritual. The wife and husband like to take in–with ritual regularity–a certain show on television, together; or perhaps a ballgame, a favorite hike, or a night out watching their favorite comedian. They’re taking in this particular stimulus together; sharing the same input. The process puts them in a fairly congruent state of mind. Their most inward experience may still be largely isolated–one looks out of one sets of eyes at a time, one’s own–but their experience of the world overlaps, like two drawn circles showing overlap but with separate centers. Within that narrow area of overlap a kind of harmonious ripple is set up, and information is unconsciously passed along that ripple. The information has to do with mutual acceptance, the quiet celebration of congruency. “My note vibrates in harmony with yours.” No one thinks of this at the time, but the message is passed, somehow, in the background of the shared experience.

Overlap can happen with negative consequences too. Two people get together, both with racist inclinations. They disagree except for their racism. They share a racist point of view and it allows them to put aside their disagreement long enough to act on their racism…And something bad happens. Someone, a third party, gets hurt.

But much of the time, it seems to me, this overlap is a positive thing. It’s a break from the isolation of the inner self.

Sure, we communicate all day. We make cell phone calls; some of us text and instant message; we yammer over a water cooler. But it’s almost like two crickets “talking” in the night. Not much is communicated. There’s no deep fellow-feeling in those kinds of communications.

By contrast, when we share an experience in person, there’s real overlap, a dropping of defenses–and the deeper self is in some way touched…

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