Last summer, Ex-BF and I took the boys on a hike. As the journey concluded, we emerged from the woods and the trail continued through a field. It was there that we stopped to wait for Josh, as it was normal for him to lag behind. I had a camera in my hands and I was poised to capture his emergence from the forest… Unfortunately, he didn’t show up. After several minutes of waiting, I hurriedly walked the trail back into the woods. I didn’t see him. I called his name. He didn’t answer. I walked faster. I searched harder. I called louder. Nothing.
That feeling was present in my chest. I teetered between mute paralysis and frantic insanity as I desperately tried to think. I pulled out my phone and called Ex-BF to let him know I couldn’t find Josh. Then I kept going.
“JOSH!” I yelled. “JOOOOSSSSSHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”
Finally, I heard him. “TARA?!” His voice was shaking with fear.
I bolted forward. As I rounded a curve in the trail, he came into view. We ran toward each other and fiercely embraced, basking in the relief of one of those Oh-Thank-God moments.
“Where were you?” I asked him. “What happened?”
Josh explained that he was lost in thought (typical for him… it is both a blessing and a curse) and when he looked around he didn’t recognize his surroundings. He thought maybe he’d taken a wrong turn so he started to walk the other way.
This kind of thing often happens in life, minus the literal forest. Sometimes people don’t meet us where we expect them to. They don’t act according to our expectations. Sometimes it’s because they’re lost. Sometimes it’s because their mind is in a different place. Sometimes they’ve purposely chosen to walk in a different direction or on a different path.
This is especially difficult when it happens with people we’re close to. There’s usually an emotional response similar to what I experienced on the hiking trail: panic, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness. There’s often a physical reaction driven by those emotions: screaming, weakness, heightened senses or perhaps superhuman strength. The loss of control is devastating. At this point, productive communication can be impossible.
When Josh was lost in the woods, there was so much I wanted to say to him:
“Where are you?”
“You’re in big trouble, mister!”
“I love you.”
Unfortunately Josh couldn’t hear me because he was in a different place. That’s also true, in the not-so-literal sense, during the scenarios I mentioned above. A few weeks ago, I spent an hour on the phone with someone who couldn’t hear me. I paced, I prodded, I asked, I insisted, I used new words to communicate the same ideas… I even raised my volume to an embarrassing level. Nothing worked. I realized that I needed to stop trying to control the situation. I had to unclench my fist and shut my mouth (why is that so hard to do?). “We’re not in the same forest,” I told myself.
It’s hard to know whether or not the other person is truly lost and wants to be found. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they need to find their own way. Sometimes it’s appropriate to rush in. Sometimes it’s better to wait it out. And sometimes it’s best to let go and walk your own path.
If anyone knows the secret of when to take which action, please comment 😉