I'm a firm believer in the spaces in between. I never found my twenty-first birthday to be particularly momentous, but the nineteenth I enjoyed, because it was between this artificial counting point and that.
I find comfort in the epiphanies that one achieves even absent the chorus singing "Hallelujah". The quiet, fond glance and brief, kind word after a long, absorbing chat affects me more than lengthy paragraphs of devotion, despite the fact that I have a leonine love for hearing kind words.
The moments one misses when a loved person departs tend to be the ordinary moments. Every good interaction features its peak moments--the times when one reaches a communion of spirit. But just a grape juice makes a perfectly workable communion vessel, so, too, do the times of pleasant rolling hills suffice as completely (and, to me, more completely) than the mountaintop experiences. I have lost two family members in the past two years, and the things I miss most about them is not any valiant, peak experience protestations of love and sympathy, but the simple ability to chat with each of them. It's in the quiet, commonplace words and pregnant silences that so much is said.
A great deal of our common wisdom suggests that any relationship requires a lot of work. In one sense, this is completely true. I like to think, though, that we all understand that a micro-wave is technology rather than metaphor, and that effort is required for so many things worth doing. But when things work, the work is just the work of living, the work of being real.
I like that thing that happens when I read a book, and the "effort" of reading merges into a hypnosis in which paragraphs seep into me as if I had achieved a unity with the book. People try so hard to "focus" on relationships, but the focus of conscious effort so often proves artificial. So often you have to live your love, and not just talk about it. It's frequently a warning signal, I've noticed, when a couple is too effusive after a lengthy time together. It can sometimes mean that people try to make up with word displays what they cannot find the conviction to believe. Sometimes you live it, rather than just say it.
Sometimes one can only focus on the moment at hand. Can a kind word be said rather than a difficult one? Can the right question be asked? Can a moment be savored? Each moment provides its own space--its own eternity. I long have believed that regardless of the "eternal-ness" of temporal time over the long run, each moment provides a kind of temporal eternity.
Each moment is a snapshot, a picture weaved into a photomosaic of living. Each moment is a slot into which a picture can be placed, like those framed "school photo" scenes. Sometimes a portion of the montage built becomes a kind of touchstone for self-identity.
Fifteen years ago today, my wife and I elected to add daily photographs of one another to the personal metaphoric montage we each maintain in our lives. We were married on a rainy day in a Kansas City suburb, in which place of "mission hills" (whatever a "mission hill" might be--a phrase I think referred to the hills around a specific "mission") a Presbyterian church had been decorated with a well-done but relatively understated set of greenery. The processional music, played on a pipe organ, was by Purcell. As a rule I am not lost for words during public speaking situations, but I recall being a bit nervous and quavery. As such things are in the similar religious traditions in which my wife and I were raised, I remember the service as being mercifully short. I am a creature of my own prejudices, but I have never seen the point to hours upon end of a ceremony of which only ten minutes or so matters at all.
I think that what I come to value over time are the things that happen in the absence of ceremony. Every couple has its rituals, and I enjoy and am fond of such rituals. But the key devotion in any relationship, it seems to me, is the ritual of the day to day. In the long run, happiness is not found so much in the "joyous occasions", but in the day to day contentment of things.
I think that for some people, things founder because while they have figured out the bliss, the day to day eludes them.
We are both very fortunate in many ways. We both enjoy and get along well with our respective in-laws.
We share many common interests. We tend to understand each other, and we are largely aware of what we do not understand. I'm very wary of people who protest that after x years they have perfect sympathy of soul. For one thing, I am not sure what comprises "perfect sympathy of soul" and, for that matter, feels that if one is going into maudlin Victorian mode, the expression "perfect symphony of soul" might have a nicer ring to it. I think that any relationship (or friendship) of a certain depth requires the persons involved to get beyond the ways in which they "fit together like two peas in a pod" and discover the places in which they are completely divergent, but can nonetheless live contentedly. I am not sure that the couple who "never fights" is really as much better off then the couple who "always fights" as one might in a picture-book imagine.
We are not much for "never" or "always". We sometimes still figure it out as we go along. Those moments in which major and minor things are solved and lived can be the "in between" moments in which the relationship truly works. Neither of us will be canonized, nor would either of us feature in a Chaucer poem about ever-patient, nearly parfait folks. But there is a great deal of room in life for imperfect people to find contentment in the moment-by-moment living of things.
As we celebrate our fifteenth anniversary, we can pause to reflect on our decisions. We chose not to have children, and now the moment is passed. Though sometimes I regret that, I am much more apt to be thankful for what we have than longing for what we chose not to have. We could have made this career choice or that, visited this relative or that, even taken this vacation or that. But it's all fodder for discussion, really, rather than something core or essential. So much of the "problems" in life are just story-telling fodder, because the real problems are solved--or not solved--in the moments when a look, a word, a touch, or just some simple forbearance means everything.
Someone I know this week is going through a very difficult thing, relating to a tragedy which befell a relative. Such events sober me. I make it a point not to let my little neurotic wonderings obscure my appreciation of the really great fortune I have in my day to day life. I don't mean to imply merely that "tragedy is all around, so feel lucky", because that always seems to me a shell-shocked way to look at life. Yet I know that the things that work are things to be savored. Today I savor fifteen years of a marriage that works.
We'll quietly celebrate tonight, cards and simple gifts, a kind word or two, a kiss. During the weekend, we'll do something more special, and, I believe, we'll take a weekend retreat soon in recognition of the anniversary. I have not looked up "which" anniversary this is--but it is my recent experience that in the "old calendar" this will be something like the Iron Anniversary, while in the "new calendar", it will be the "Flawless Ruby" anniversary. I do not find my happiness in marking anniversaries, as cool as I find anniversaries to be. I think that I take instead my comfort in the fact that when I get home every night, I know there is someone there who is glad I am home, and who I am glad to be home to see.
I know there will be conversation, and a sense of ease. I know that when I wake the next morning, I will be glad to awake. I think that equanimity is a good thing, and it is found in the moments between the highs and the lows. I have for some time believed that the real sound of music is in the spaces and silences. I believe, after fifteen years, that one is not waiting for the rapture so much as living the moment at hand as if it were blessed.