Recently my blog-friend Kyle posted a fragment on alterity and my thoughts in response to his post ended up being too long for a combox. So, I post them here.
Kyle speaks of looking into a familiar face and suddenly realizing that he could never exhaust the full meaning of that person. Our ideas about a person can be basically true, but not exhaustive, not the final word on who that person is.
I've had a somewhat similar experience on a number of occasions; mostly when talking to or about people much older than myself. If you ever want to experience alterity, go up to one of your parents or a beloved teacher or some other person of that sort and ask them to tell you about their childhood. Better yet, ask them what they wanted to do with their lives when they were your age. (This works best if you are about 17 or 18 years old.) To cite an example: I've known my mother now for 19 1/2 years. (20 1/4, if you count the time I spent inside her). I'd say I know her pretty well after all that. Yet...she is not just my mom. And I will probably never comprehend fully how she became who she is today, even though I've been around for almost half her life.
I wonder if my children will ever have that same experience with me. They could ask a question as innocent as "What was it like when you were dating Daddy?" and I'd have to tell them a story that I can't possibly express for you, dear readers, right now as I type this. Perhaps I will never be able to express it. These past few years have been a journey in alterity if there ever was one.
Which brings me to another thought that came to me as I was reading Kyle's post: The Cobbler is an Other. You'd think I'd have known that already. I've known him for only 2 1/2 of his almost 20 years, and called him my friend for only about 18 months. (And my boyfriend for 14--we progressed beyond friendship pretty quickly.) Yet for all that I think I could say (and he might even agree with me) that I probably know him better than anybody else, even better than his parents or older brothers who have known him for the entire time he's existed on this earth.
Still, he remains Other. I remember on one occasion, within a month of when we started dating, the two of us were making a holy hour together and as we sat and prayed I was suddenly struck with the realization that in that moment he was alone with God, even though I was no more than a foot to his right.
It's something I need to be reminded of sometimes, that the Cobbler is not merely an accesory to God's plan for me, nor am I an accessory to God's plan for him. God has an individual plan for each of us; we lived those plans separately for about 18 years and will live them together for as long as God grants us to do so, but ultimately there will be no chance to do what Adam and Eve did; stand pointing fingers under the force of God's judgement. In the end, he is going to be even more alone with God than he is in Adoration, and he will be saved or damned based on who he is within himself (though certainly I could bear responsibility for either helping or hindering his growth in virtue).
And ultimately I will be alone too, with the one who is altogether Other.