My wife and I went to see Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC) in concert last night. It was one of those unique solo performances, just him, three guitars, and a piano on stage. Intimate. Providing space for him to tell stories and interact with the audience. I love this format.
We heard he was coming to town just when my birthday was approaching, and so we bought tickets right away as a birthday present. We scored really good seats. Tenth row, center. It reminded us of the last time we’d seen him. It was years ago in Los Angeles, CA at The Greek Theater, great outdoor venue. And almost the exact same seat location.
Weeks past and the date of the concert finally arrived. The day before, our daughter-in-law mentioned she had two tickets to give away. We immediately thought of two close friends and in no time we had made plans to go together. When we arrived at the auditorium we each set out to find our seats. The concert started and it was amazing. We were close enough to see everything.
Half way though, there was an intermission. This gave us time to stretch our legs and look around. I scanned the mezzanine for a glimpse of our friends. In the upper balcony I could just make out their shapes and color of their clothing. I waved and we caught each other’s attention. It’s a funny sensation standing there, knowing them, staring up at them, knowing we were experiencing the same concert, but not fully sharing it with them. My friend texted me. I texted back. It was funny, and awkward. I didn’t like being so far away. A few minutes past and I just had to go see what they were thinking and feeling about the concert. So, up the aisle I jogged.
I climbed one set of stairs. Then another. Then another. When I finally arrived, we had a chance to share our excitement, and in the midst of the conversation my friend said something that caught in my ear — “He [SCC] just looks like a blur from up here. So, we’re just enjoying listening.” It revealed a subtle disconnection that we weren’t experiencing in our seats up front. She was right. I turned around to look down, and down, and down to the stage. I could barely make out the guitars. It felt so distant. Her statement and the view got me thinking, not just about the concert, but about how relationships are like this. And it made me wonder how many of my relationships might look just like this — how many do I live at a distance?
My friends could hear the concert just as good as we could. The PA system projected his voice throughout the auditorium. But I could feel the disconnection the distance brought, in the same way that listening to the radio separates the musicians from the listener, in the same way I feel when talking to my grand-kids on FaceTime and wanting but unable to experience their closeness, in the same way a photograph of the mountains doesn’t provide the same sense of wonder as standing in front of a fourteen-thousand foot granite monolith, and craning my neck up to catch a glimpse of the top. Distance separates. It is partial. It opens us up to distraction and apathy. It leaves us longing for more.
When we’re up close, we see more. We see detail and color and movement. Our sight and smell and perception is heightened. With people, we see the smiles and the smile-lines on their faces. The subtle gestures. The funny glances. A wink when teasing. We see the tears in their eyes as they share their stories. We reach out and take their hand. We relax into a warm embrace. We aren’t just closer in distance, we literally feel closer. There is an energy we experience, like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen in years, or when you see your favorite actor chatting with someone at a restaurant or you get to meet your favorite author (these have happened to me. :)) I’m not usually ‘star-struck’, but there’s no denying the special feeling of proximity.
Still, closeness is scary. It brings us in, close enough to see the flaws, and them to see ours. We see the blemishes. We see the signs of aging and decay. We see the grey hair. We see the spinach in their teeth. We smell the onions they had for lunch. Fights don’t happen from a distance, they happen toe-to-toe. A look of despise in someone’s face. The rolling of their eyes. The blank stare of distraction. The dismissal of your words as someone cuts you off to find someone “more interesting” to talk to. These are painful occurrences. They make it tempting to give-in to a longing for distance, to want to create space, isolation, and independence. Distance feels safer and independence a sensible measure.
Closeness invites engagement. It demands it. I’ve felt it many times even in crowds when sitting close to the front of a class or facing a person presenting, acting, entertaining, singing, or whatever, I’ve felt a greater sense responsibility to the person. When I sit in the back of the auditorium I have no problem having conversations, checking my phone, allowing myself every distraction. But, when in front, close, seeing them eye-to-eye, I feel a sense of connection. It becomes my personal duty to participate, to engage. I feel the unwritten social contract to communicate feedback, support, encouragement even. Pulling out my phone feels rude and disrespectful. Having a distracted, disinterested conversation right in front of a presenter feels disrespectful, unloving even, to the one who is pouring their heart out for my benefit. I feel it individually, too. Standing with you, face-to-face, as you engage me in conversation. You value me with your attention.
Back at the concert, as I stood there looking down at the stage from high above in the balcony, I could feel myself longing to be closer. I didn’t like the distance, I wanted to be in the thick of things, to join-in again. And with each step I took down toward my seat in the 10th row, the clearer Chapman became. I could make out the polishing on his guitar. I could see him squint as he smiled and laughed. I could see his fingers move on the neck of his guitar. I became more and more engaged, drawn in. I felt closer to the music.
I want this in all of my life. I want to experience my relationships this way. Not at a safe distance, but close, engaged, a participant.
It’s not necessary to be close. It’s not necessary to engage. Many of us are content just to be in the ‘nose-bleed’ seats–as long as we can be in the arena. This might be good enough for sporting events and concerts, but not for relationships. And definitely not enough if we’re hoping for fulfilling relationships. I’d guess if most of us had our way, we’d sit in the 10th row, front and center. It’s usually cost that deters us. And it’s no different in relationships. Good relationships will cost us. A lot. Time. Growth. Humility. Frustration. Hurt feelings. Loss. Embarrassment. Rejection. And more. But, for all the cost, there is nothing more satisfying than a good friendship. Nothing more fun than a playful afternoon with someone we enjoy hanging out with. Nothing quite like the healing we experience when sharing our troubles with a listening ear. Nothing like being known, and knowing another.
Proximity creates opportunity.
This entire metaphor about sitting in an auditorium is pretty limited, especially when we’re talking about true relationship. I know it sounds as if all I’ve talked about here is being close physically, but I hope you can read between the lines. True connection is not just physical, not just a radius. It is, in its best and truest form, emotional, spiritual, heart to heart. That is where the real magic of relationship happens. Proximity creates opportunity, it is a starting point. The next step closer is found not with our feet, but with our heart.
- Where are you sitting in the auditorium of relationships in your life? Up close or at a distance?
- Are you happy there? What’s keeping you there?
- What’s one step you could take to step closer to the action?
I wrote about another proximity experience I had. Click here to read about it.