I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be understood by another person. When I was younger, the Great Dream was to find someone who understood every part of me, without me having to communicate it (which made me an excellent girlfriend at age 14, I'm quite sure). It took me years to tame the excitement I'd feel when someone would say something that made me feel utterly understood, like finally I'd found a truly kindred spirit. It was a big lure of online relationships at first--I remember reading a post on a bulletin board about how this woman gagged every time she brushed a certain quadrant of her teeth, and how she thought it was linked to some sort of psychological trigger, and I thought, Omigod, someone ELSE thinks that and omigod I've totally found my Other. She wasn't my Other. Nor was the woman who talked about "the sadness you feel in your arms," or any guy I've gone out with, no matter the quality of our 2 a.m. lights-out pillow talk, hands held, bodies swaddled in each other, hearts open. The best I could hope for was those moments in which you hear someone, or they hear you, and you know that the other person really understands.
And now, I'm fine with that, in part because of that Rilke quote. I found a person whom I consider to be the guardian of my solitude. We get each other, in part because we get that neither of us will be wholly "gotten" by the other, not because of our failings but because of our humanness. The parts of me he doesn't get--and there are many--I look to affirm in my friends. Or my family, either through their "getting" it too, or through their intrinsic understanding of my history. Or literature, or good movies, or posts on bulletin boards. There are enough people in the world who are creative but hampered by lack of direction; dilettantes but wanting to be more; natural optimists with depressive tendencies--the things that I get excited about when I connect with people--that even though I, as a whole, am not understood by anyone, I never have to fear that I'll go utterly un-understood. And the parts of myself that I haven't heard anyone else "get"? I keep them dear to myself, usually not out of shame--occasionally, sure--but more often because secrets are precious; because the murky, unknowable parts keep us from being a string of personality DNA, jigsaw puzzles of other people.
I can't imagine--really, cannot imagine--what it would be like to be in a world in which the number of people who understand fundamental things about you is infinitesimally small. Because you're famous--wildly famous--because the world watched your self-hatred morph and expand the way I watched my neighbor boy grow up from four-year-old to a young man whose voice changed last summer. Because your predilections are immoral, criminal, yet your status allows you to shield yourself from getting the kind of help you would need to reconcile those desires with your similarly true desires to do the right thing. Because we all know about your family; because your pill problem is on the front page; because you are loved and hated in equal measures; because the mere whisper of your presence brings electricity.
So you meet a certain cache of people who understand what it's like to be wildly famous. You find people who are self-proclaimed freaks, and buy skeletons of the freaks who can't speak with you about what it was like for them. You find children who understand what it's like to lose a childhood; you find children who, you think, can give that back to you. You find beautiful, troubled people, and try to collect them. But even then, you are too big for them.
Michael Jackson was so large that his death prompted not a reaction of sadness but of--not quite humor, but of archness. I wasn't cracking jokes or anything, but his death immediately became a ludicrous event. My best friend was late to meet me for dinner. "Sorry, I got caught up at work," she said. "Don't lie; you were composing yourself after mourning for Michael," I said. And we laughed.
His death came up a few times over dinner. And finally, she casually said what we say of sick old people and dogs: He's out of his misery now. And instead of it sounding like a cliche, something you say to excuse a possibly sad event, it was the absolute truth. I was never a crazed fan; I liked him like we all did, no more. I've talked about the tragedy of Michael Jackson before--how can you not, in order to keep the mix of fame beyond fame and awful acts against children from being just overwhelmingly depressing--but it wasn't until I connected him with Rilke that I saw that perhaps his biggest tragedy was that he was given both too much solitude and never, ever enough. He needed a guardian too.