The candle I light when I meditate is in an old ball jar. When I am done meditating I put the lid on the jar and watch the flame slowly die. It takes a few seconds. The flame lives with the oxygen left in the jar and when it no longer has enough to stay lit it goes out completely.
Relationships are like candles-- they only survive with enough oxygen to stay ignited. Whether it is a family relationship, a romantic relationship, a sibling relationship, or a simple friendship, we can feel when there is light, activity, energy. And we can feel it when there's not.
In my nuclear family of three, when everyone feels good about themselves, when we are able to each be present, it feels light and full of energy. We bring together our flames and unite them. We linger at the dinner table, laugh a lot, and have extended conversations. There is more light, more energy, and more joy. In times when we are all fully present, it feels like all of our individual flames are lit and together they burn brighter.
In my relationship with one of my sisters, I feel like there is not enough oxygen to keep my candle steadily burning when we talk. I can feel vibrant, alive and full of life before calling her and then when I get her on the phone it feels like the fire slowly dies.
This sister is very busy, always busy. Often I'll call her and get a robotext back: "working" or "in a meeting." I know it's probably not personal but I often take it that way. I recognize that when I do finally talk to her on the phone I am bringing with me a sense of anticipatory oxygen deprivation.
I'm so exhausted and disappointed from receiving the endless text rejections that I come into the experience of actually talking to her feeling like an asthmatic without an inhaler. My flame is barely lit, a flicker at best. We do our best to have periodic conversations, working with the available light from our flames. But it's hard. It's a struggle. It's light a candle struggling for enough oxygen to stay lit.
I imagine this sister feels the same way about me. Just as I struggle to stay lit with her, I am not the oxygen that feeds her flame. Together we are unable to create the heat and excitement that comes when I talk to a different sibling or my partner or my best friend.
Last night my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia FaceTimed my sister. When I went into Lucia's room I could see her laughing and animated with my sister on the screen, also laughing and animated. I felt a pang, a sadness, a loss. My sister didn't ignite this way with me.
It made me think about my part in this snuffed candle relationship. I am not showing up with radiant energy, flame burning, lid open, welcoming a steady flow of oxygen. I am preemptively extinguished, lid sealed tight, preparing for what I think I will experience on the phone with my sister. My daughter has fresh eyes, an open mind. She does not come into her conversations with my sister saddled with fifty years of sibling dynamics, disappointments, and expectations.
So of course my sister was lit up. Of course, Lucia was lit up. Together they were fireworks!
I miss this sister a lot. I long to have the kind of conversations I have with my other siblings. I long to laugh with her the way she laughs with my daughter. There is a flicker of light in our relationship, if only that I want to make it stronger, brighter. I can work with that. I can work with the available light we have and build on it.
If I want a relationship with more energy and light with my sister, I have to see her with new eyes. I have to release the oxygen-deprived expectations I put on her. I can't control what she does, but I can try to see her through a fresh lens and hope that this brings a little more oxygen to our flickering flame.