Bandwidths and Pie Charts

Sitting quietly this morning with a mug of coffee in hand, relishing a new day fresh with the promise of possibility, my mind turned without intention to bandwidths. I had a sudden insight, something so obvious it feels a bit silly to articulate it: Often, the tension in relationships boils down to unequal “bandwidths” available for interaction. Not that I haven’t known that, exactly, but somehow the thought came in a compelling, tangible form that I find quite reassuring and comforting.

We use bandwidth terminology in our family. I’m sure it’s not ours alone, but that’s where it started for me. We say “I have no bandwidth to spare” when we find ourselves up to our ears in alligators, overwhelmed with circumstances and things to do. It’s a communication shortcut for us, a warning against shortness or seemed disinterest.

Curious as to why this thought would spring up unbidden and without context, I decided to look up “bandwidth”, confirm or disprove what it means to me, and to see where that might take me.  Other than its electronic definition, it is defined as “the energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation”. Bingo.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in falling prey to assigning deeper meaning when actually time and/or energy is the major player in what is (or is not!) going on. We project our insecurities. (Dang! But we do…and we need to be constantly aware of this, working continually to see things as they really are, not skewing them with our gray-tinted glasses.)

We ascribe meanings to dearth of interaction. It does, of course, mean something, but it occurs to me that too often I am tempted to ascribe meanings that are inaccurate.

The rub is that people have different bandwidths available at different times in their lives, because their situations and circumstances vary over time. For example, as a single person with no family responsibilities and a flexible work life of my own design, at this point in my life I have considerable bandwidth to allocate as I choose.

Several people that I care about very deeply are bandwidth-saturated at present, meaning my interactions with them are much more limited that I would like them to be. Bandwidth thinking helps me comprehend on a deeper level that it’s not about me; it’s more that they are totally consumed by their extenuating circumstances.

Running with this thought, I switched to thinking about pie charts, which somehow make the concept even clearer. I picture my own little pie, neatly carved it into sections of home duties, volunteer responsibilities, social interactions, etc. Then I think about the “pies” of those people I long for. I see their overwhelm, see the tangled webs of responsibilities that make dividing their lives into tidy pie slices well-nigh impossible: too much filling for the size of the container!

I realize the irony of dissimilar circumstances, when one person has so much time and another has so little. It’s oddly comforting to couch this conundrum in these terms. It helps me understand that this, too, will pass. The undergirding with these people who are important to me is solid as bedrock. The present circumstances are like weather patterns passing through. Thinking this way does not lessen my longing, but it evaporates my uncertainty, disperses insecurity. Life is not tidy. Uneven bandwidths are part of the package.

Always, though, I have the desire for a useful take-away, a kernel to help me deal with an uncomfortable truth. What might that be in this case? I suppose understanding the underlying dynamics instead of blaming myself for how I’m feeling is a significant gain, one more candle’s light illuminating my way forward. I need to use the bandwidth I have, as creatively and kindly as I can, while staying aware of the bigger picture and the varied bandwidths at work in my circle of loved ones. That done, the task is deceptively simple yet often challenging and elusive: Leave the rest to God…

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