A Life Separate

finding yourselfA Personal Perspective.

I have a life separate from anyone I know. I don’t mean I have a secret life; those closest to me know me pretty much in detail. Sometimes, I’m told, in too much detail. I mean that my life, my life, exists apart and separate. As it is with each of us.

With my penchant for blurring differences to avoid distinction, for merging myself to save discomfort, I forget this reality from time to time. Occasionally, from decade to decade. But, while I’m remembering it, let me say, I am as potentially resilient and as capable of joy as I was the moment I was born and the cord was cut. My experience, now informed by years of relationships, choices, and circumstances, is still mine alone, no matter whom I share it with, no matter the intimacies.


Since my first attempts at playing hopscotch on the blacktop of Fern Greenwood elementary, I have insisted my friends be beyond reproach, always play fair, never fudge the lines, always have the right answers, know me better than I know myself (an accusation I’ve found myself spewing countless times, “You think you know me better than I know myself!?!” leaving a trail of would-be companions sputtering and bewildered…) and over the years I’ve fallen in love and come to love remarkable people. Remarkable, fallible people. People whom I mostly admire and sometimes do not. And in my oblivious drive to blend, I have still insisted on looking to them to always lead in the right direction, to always lead by correct example, to always lead.

It’s a burden no one should shoulder. It reflects a burden I place on myself: a low tolerance for anything but the most rigid standard of what constitutes principled behavior and thought. A low tolerance for limitation, for uncertainty, for getting it wrong sometimes. A low tolerance for decisions based on fear, seemingly reasonable at the time and ludicrous in hindsight. Messy, human attempts at life.

When I do remember my blessed separateness, all of a sudden I have options. I am vulnerable. I feel easier in my imperfection. I am tender toward my loved ones’ imperfections. I am gentle toward the bleakness of some realities. Some of the decisions I have made are the polar opposite of what I now wish they had been. Some are unredeemable. Some pain inflicted by me on others cannot be undone, and that’s just how it is. That’s a hard truth of my life. But at the same time it is true that I have shared kindnesses and friendships and love. And I’ve experienced beauty; physical, emotional, and spiritual beauty.

When I do “remember what it is to be me,” as Joan Didion puts it in The Center Will Not Hold, then, however unsure or unmoored I’m feeling, I still know one thing: wherever I find myself, there I am. Inhabiting my body and my senses. Not looking to be led, because I do not feel lost. When I do remember my sovereign nature, I am aware of my emotions as they course and slice through me or come to rest for a breathtaking moment; aware of my perspective on the world I am faced with, instead of worrying about the face I’m presenting to the world; aware of my physicality, of my weird feet splaying at the end of my legs, my scalp ending at the sprout of graying hair. I remember what it is to exist within my cumulation of experiences, my ascertained knowledge, the things that matter to me, the things I yearn for.

This is a relief and a release; whatever I am savoring or enduring, I am alive, and my whole body knows it. A life, singular and whole. Unfinished. Separate from anyone. Mine.


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About the Author

Jo Barrington Born in Washington D.C., Jo Barrington now lives in Santa Barbara, California.  She has been interested in psychological ideas and theory from early in her life and for the last 26 years she has edited psychological books and videos, with a little creative writing on the side!

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