When I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, I was at my cousin’s house and briefly saw something on TV that has stayed with me to this day, decades later.
It was a show featuring a performance by Chinese contortionists who would hold an entire tower of ceramic plates and cups, balancing them in the air. The delicate china would be precariously positioned in an unbelievably tall tower, stacked one on top of the other in a way that seemingly defied gravity. Then the person holding this whole thing would move this way and that, showing their amazing skill in contortions even while holding an impossibly high stack of delicate things.
As a kid, I was delighted and riveted.
As an adult, I had this random image pop up in my mind, a distant childhood memory. There are some relationships in our lives that remind me of that contortionist performance.
Some people make so many demands, so many impositions, so many impossible asks that being in the relationship with them feels like you are having to hold up an entire precarious teetering tower of china, always just about to collapse. The nature of the relationship is unsustainable and stressful, overtaxing your resources and overburdening you emotionally and physically. You can’t rest or get a break. You have to keep balancing the delicate burden you are carrying, and they keep adding more cups and plates to the top of that tower. The whole structure is fragile and vulnerable, constantly under threat of falling apart. There is no safety, no security, no certainty in the relationship.
Usually, these types of relationships become so unfair and so dysfunctional that they eventually blow up right in your face.
Something happens or someone comes along and finally flicks with just one finger just one corner of the absurdly tall china tower you have been balancing for years and the whole thing just falls and shatters into a million pieces. Poof. All your work is nullified and all your efforts have been wasted and you have nothing to show for it. Gone.
You stand there with the broken pieces of china at your feet and you hear the question, “What have you ever even done?”
Then, there are other relationships in your life that are the exact opposite. These relationships are easy, open, mutual. You can speak your mind honestly and voice your true opinion and it will be heard and understood and taken into account. You can say yes or no. You are counted. Your efforts are seen and appreciated. Your motivations are not constantly in question. Your character is not always assassinated. The love you receive is not conditional. There is no more “What have you done for me lately?”
No delicate china plates to balance. No need to contort yourself into odd shapes to sustain the unsustainable.
Cherish these healthy people in your life. Appreciate these sound relationships and never take them for granted. Thank Allah for these blessings.