Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Seven Year Itch

I realized something tonight – with a little help from Hessel (henceforth referred to as Dutch).

We were sitting beneath the misters at one of my favorite restaurants – a little Italian bistro that specializes in thin-crust pizza and scrumptious salads – enjoying the view of the mountains and watching Audrey cover herself in tomato grease. Evangeline slept soundly in her stroller.

Having celebrated our 7th anniversary on July the 6th, I had been reflecting all week on the “B.M.” (Before Marriage) Heather and the “A.M.” (After Marriage) Heather.

There have been some positive changes: Coming from a highly expressive Irish-Italian family and marrying into a reticent Dutch one has, for example, taught me that it is possible to exercise control over one’s emotions. Who knew?

But alongside the positive changes – or should I say, in their shadow – have crept some negative ones too: I don’t know whether it’s my willingness, courage, or capacity to be vulnerable that’s been damaged but… somehow, somewhere along the way, something has been lost.

How did this happen?

Dutch, describing our tumultuous first year of marriage, offered this explanation: “So much went so wrong - so fast and for so long – that I think a part of you still struggles to believe that God is really good; and that life, in spite of its pain, can be beautiful.”

Rifles raised. Ready, aim, fire – I had been hit right between the eyes.

Like all good stories, the story of our first year of marriage is a long one (if you are interested in reading a detailed account you can find it here).

The short version may be summed up in Yeats’s words: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold… everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Or in the words of Jeremiah the prophet: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

In one sense our wedding was, like all marriages, a ceremony of innocence – both of us passionately in love but completely naïve as to what our so-called “love” would reveal and require of us. Though we had each experienced some significant hardship, neither of us was convinced of the resident evil within our own hearts.

We also learned – after watching our dreams of conjugal life hopelessly dashed – that “things fall apart.” The center cannot hold. No matter how hard you work or how desperately you will yourself to move in one direction over another, man is not the ultimate master of his own fate.

It wasn’t always like this…

While we were dating friends gave us the nickname “H-bomb” because, in our early days as a couple, we sort of, well... exploded into rooms. We were filled with hopeful determination, the kind that often accompanies youth. We looked at the world – and, more importantly, each other – through rose-tinted glasses. In retrospect, I imagine we projected a certain kind of saccharine sweetness for life! For love! For raindrops on roses! And whiskers on kittens! And – well, you get the idea – being around us was probably, to some people, mildly nauseating.

After our first year of marriage, the nickname (now our initials) took on a more tragic – but no less accurate – meaning.

My cousin Jon described receiving our first Christmas card, in which we elected to publicly ‘rejoice in our sufferings’ by chronicling the series of unfortunate events we had encountered during our previous six months together, this way: “Most people just write to say, ‘Happy Holidays. I hope you had a good year.’ Reading your Christmas card was like having a bomb detonated in your living room. ‘Season’s Greetings,’ it seemed to say, ‘We hope your year was super! Ours made Dante’s journey through hell seem like a walk in the park.”

H-Bomb certainly did explode. Undoubtedly for our good; and hopefully for His glory.

“Life is 95% perspective,” Dutch told me as the last sliver of sunlight sunk behind the now violet mountains, “And 5% circumstances.”

Again, he was so right (boy, did I marry well!). Contentment in life has little or nothing to do with circumstances; and everything to do with how we view our circumstances.

I asked myself whether I was choosing to see my life - and our marriage - as a work of art that God, in His goodness, was in the process of perfecting? Or was I becoming a cynic, unwilling to believe that two hopelessly flawed people can, over the course of tentwentythirtyforty or fifty years, actually fall more in love with one another. Even more, that they can act as tools in the hands of God, helping to make the other one perfect?

I admit I often oscillate between these two opinions; and I realized that part of what helps me maintain the right perspective is... writing.

So I am giving myself a little summer challenge: write one entry a week and post it here. Don’t be afraid: of who is listening and, perhaps more importantly, who isn’t; of the person you are; or the person you are not. After all, none of us, this side of heaven, will ever be "perfect and complete." We are all in "process" - moving in one direction or another, either toward God or away from Him.

If Dutch was right - as he (seemingly) always is - and a part of me did die during those earliest, darkest days, all is not lost. For as is commonly held, death often precedes new life; though its subject matter is ominous, Yeats's poem even suggests this by its title, "The Second Coming." In order for something to be reborn, it first must die.

So here is to - not just small beginnings - but new ones.

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