If only it were possible to love without injury- fidelity isn’t enough: I had been faithful… and yet I had injured her. The hurt is in the act of possession: we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation.”
— The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
Proximity to several weddings and anniversaries has got me thinking not only about hope and wonderful relationships, but also- this may seem a bit neurotic- about the impossibility of attaining the ideal: complete mutual understanding. Ideal goals, almost by definition, are impossible to reach- and yet (one hopes) we strive on, grinding the rough corners, losing the old baggage, constantly adjusting our attitudes toward one another and admonishing ourselves to be better people. In other words, if we are “too small in mind and body,” we need to keep growing! If only there were an easier way; if only we had chimeric genes or the drug-induced ability to escape our limited dimensions and merge together, like Benn and Lora in Fourth World, both projecting their auras in an out-of-body experience:
“HUH!” was all Benn could manage as their two auras met. It was not so much a physical joining of bodies- not the sensation he had hoped for, alas- but more like a merging of two liquids. Lora feels like oil, the odd thought came to him: he pictured a large drop of oil falling into a pool of water. As it splashed, the strong natural repulsion between auras took immediate effect: the drop embodying Lora displaced a smaller drop- a portion of Benn’s aura- which rose straight upward. Then the Benn-drop fell back in and splashed up an even smaller droplet- Lora again- which in turn fell, and so on, until inevitably the last micro-sphere of Lora was captured by Benn’s surface tension and could no longer escape. As separate liquids, the two of them had different viscosities: Benn flowed easily, whereas Lora’s character was thicker, more unctuous. Their collision caused long, finger-like projections of Lora to penetrate into Benn’s aura, causing it to blush red before snapping back to attention.
He recognized her myriad layers, those melodic strains, the steady internal rhythm he had so admired. With their thoughts intermingled, mutual understanding arrived instantaneously, and no longer required the cumbersome verbal exchange of ideas expressed ploddingly one at a time, over periods measurable on a stopwatch.”
If only we could do that! But in the sequel, Fourth World Nation, Benn wrestles with the ups and downs of sharing auras:
“Benn thought long and hard before giving his answer. Even though she had quickly apologized and even made a joke about it, Lora had meant what she said about the survival of their relationship. Admittedly, he often worried about misconstruing her intentions, being insensitive, and appearing apathetic when he really did care; why would she not have her own set of worries about appearing moody, contentious, or needy when she was anything but? Only when their auras fused together was there instantaneous and true knowledge of one another. Who wouldn’t want a relationship completely free of misunderstandings, mistrust, manipulation, projection, guilt, dishonesty or domination? No more mumbling, lapses of attention, slips of the tongue or difficulty hearing, either! What could be better?”
Unlike Benn and Lora, the rest of us remain in separate, finite minds and bodies. It’s as though we are talking through a wall, in different languages, our voices muffled and disguised. Of course we’ll never achieve complete understanding that way, so we need to keep growing, grinding, adjusting. But come to think of it, this continual striving on our parts reflects an untiring commitment to our relationships, doesn’t it? We may not hear each other perfectly well, but that untiring commitment, I think, is at least one ideal we can attain.