Warp and Weft

Imperfect Reflections (c) SMG 2018

Movers could have unfurled the enormous Persian rug in one of two ways.

Once spread out, it fills more square feet than did our entire first apartment as newlywed grad students.

A symmetrical design falls away in layers from a central medallion reminiscent of a quavering diamond, outlined with both gentle waves and angled peaks.  The rug is distinctly in my husband Jim’s calm color palette: gentle golds, russets, and moss greens, with a smattering of milky blue. (I find that I gravitate to riots of color, at least when I surface from grief to come up for air.)

Over the years I have, heel-to-toe, paced these never-ending lines while preparing to argue cases, waiting interminably as my customer service calls were “escalated” up the line, and giving and receiving both good and Very Bad news.

After the not inconsiderable task of unfurling the rug in my newest home–now three full cities and one state distant from its original tenure with us–I saw that the movers’ serendipitous choice of where to deposit it has laid bare its deep flaws.

Some might have discarded this rug many moves ago.

Had it faced the other way, its mutilated corner would have been hidden from view underneath the cream-colored couch (which, of far more recent vintage than the rug, bears only a minor flaw: a sprinkling of puppy teeth marks) .

But now the abraded corner has been splayed for all to see, if they are in the habit of periodically looking down to see where they are going.

Patches of hand-knotted wool have entirely worn away; fringe has thinned to weary threads.

The selvage cannot be salvaged.

The manner of injury was inadvertent; the cause was over-watering (of a potted ficus that towered over me).

The venue was a more modern home, the sun-soaked slightly sunken living room, to be exact.

My husband made very few mistakes in his all too short years, especially when it came to living creatures.  But boy, did he over-water that plant.

The water, in turn, seeped through drainage holes in its large clay pot, and into a significant swath of the perfect new rug that was then our most expensive purchase in our years of marriage.

We did not actually notice this until we were almost ready to roll the rug up for a move to the old house he loved so much, where his earthly possessions would remain for me to tend to when we moved the next time, and the next.

The damaged portion is now a tattered island moored to the mainland by its underside, where it seems Jim fashioned a large rectangular dressing from carefully cut adhesive strips of silt-colored paper.

Over the years the adhesive hold has become more tenuous; fissures have developed, revealing ragged shallow ridges of scored, carmelized once-sticky paper which poke through the surface like baleen teeth.

The rug’s measurements are the same, but  it is off kilter.  Perfect symmetry is a thing of the past. It’s as if only this portion of the rug has aged–badly, in the way too severe a shock robs a body of its power to entirely heal.

Even in the dark, this damage would make itself known by the gentle crinkling sound the paper dressing still makes when a foot or paw treads even lightly upon it.

I have left the rug that way, not simply because it is far too weighty for me to move.  It is right at my home’s threshold; if you enter and simply glance down you will see it, cross over its threadbare glory, and perhaps contemplate its story.

It was pristine when it came to us.  Jim purchased it after careful appraisal, and with some consternation about the price–more than we had paid for any car we’d purchased, and four times the entire semester’s cash he’d carried as a college freshman–in the dog days of  August.  Our first baby was in my arms and a welcome breeze came in.

For awhile the rug was the only furnishing in our living room.  In the only shaded corner was a large stone fireplace where we posed our perfect baby boy in the tiny Santa suit his Aunt Liz gave him before he was born.

A year later, I sat on it in a room still bereft of furniture , and baby Sam gently patted the belly under which his brother dwelt.

After we had next moved, by then with three preschoolers, we returned to the empty  house for one last visit.  Our smiling sons sat on the two low wooden steps into the living room, where our seated toddler daughter’s image was reflected in the gleaming wood floor.

I have noticed, only in retrospect, that once we became parents Jim became more of a caretaker to all living, growing things.   He brought the ficus home shortly after we brought home our firstborn, and surrounded our homes with bird feeders which he carefully maintained.  Over the years he planted and maintained flowers and bushes and trees and grew berries and vegetables he readily sacrificed to wildlife visitors, rather than safeguarding in a way that might endanger critters emerging from surrounding woods. He even enlisted and supervised less complex organisms, tapping maple syrup, tending to sourdough bread starter, and brewing beer.

He maintained bird feeder cities, tending more meticulously to their culinary sensibilities than I ever was capable of when attempting to sate our humans and beagles.

Perhaps it is needless to say I am not such a fan of perfection.  Maybe it’s just a chicken and egg proposition, as I have never been close to that mark.

I now have another, far smaller rug that appears to be perfectly symmetrical.  I acquired this magic Mughal carpet in Uttar Pradesh, where one of my daughters and I saw such rugs being hand-made.  Unlike the damaged rug at my home’s threshold, its asymmetry is well hidden but complete: due to the arrangement of its warp and weft, from one side it is deep sapphire, and from the other a steel blue-gray.

Little in life satisfies the human impulse to see and seek beauty in perfect symmetry.  And among what is worth holding on to, few things are unscarred.

 

 

Love Lessons: A Marriage Manifesto

Overhead at the spot where we married, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Overhead at the spot where we married, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

” . . . [T]here are three people in a marriage, there’s the woman, there’s the man, and there’s what I call the third person, the most important, the person who is composed of the man and woman together.”

–Jose Saramago, “All the Names”

” Because, you know, you and your spouse are, like, one.”

–Melissa Gorga, “Real Housewives of New Jersey”

I’d like to weigh in as a mom.  One with young daughters and sons.  The remaining member of a couple who lived out our wedding vows until–and in a way after–death us did part.

I believe in osmosis–the continuing two-way exchanges within a good marriage.  It’s not so much that one consciously molds or shapes a partner, but I think sustaining loving relationships let us incorporate the best parts of one another.

The person the two of you become can be a better human being than the people you once were.

(I refuse to link to an original mom “manifesto,” issued by, I am somewhat pained to say, a fellow alum who produced two sons.  She wrote an open letter–published in the school newspaper of the university her son then attended–exhorting the nubile female undergraduate population promptly to set about seizing husband material from the upper classes.  In a subsequent self promotional tour, she paused theatrically and announced, without benefit of a preceding question, “Yes, I went there.”  To which John Stewart responded, “Where?  The 1950s?”).

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Wedding Flowers

I’ll spare you reading that screed and report that–while celebrating the supposed uber-marriagability of her sons and their male classmates–her clarion call to to other mothers’ daughters did not contain a single discussion of love, kindness, faith, grace, friendship, or anything like a commitment of souls for better and worse.

Your College Romantic Relationships, or Lack Thereof, Will Not Doom You.

Three Cheers . . .

First a disclaimer: I happen to have married a man I met when I was a teenage college student.  It was a statistical improbability that this relationship would last.

He broke up with me after nearly a year.

I didn’t take it all that well.

What he said, with some puzzlement at my surprise: “Did you think it would last forever?”

What he didn’t say, but what I read in his decision and discomfort: “You’re my first girlfriend.  We’re still teenagers.  Neither of us has any experience with a serious relationship.  How could this possibly survive?”

As it happened, he reconsidered.  And it did last forever.

Jim’s Closing Ceremonies took place in a church on a school campus, attended by multitudinous children and teenagers.  The Reverend commented on the beginning of our marriage.

“And don’t rush it, guys,” he told them. “But if you chance to meet someone at seventeen and think, ‘This is my life partner,’ know that sometimes it works.”

The key word here is chance.  Happenstance.  Serendipity caused us to meet.  A confluence of love and hope and compatibility, as well as innumerable concrete events we did not control, led us to marry.

Absent any of these whispers from the wings, Jim could have been to me and I could have been to him, as Greg Brown put it, “just another face in the crowd.”

Had any number of other choices been made in either of our lives, no doubt we would have had other relationships and become very different people.  But I guarantee that the quality of the marriage wasn’t influenced by us attending the same college.

If my own children one day emerge in their adult lives with partners they had in college, then great.  And if not, great.  I will never subscribe to, let alone ply, the misguided notion that a “name” school is necessarily the ideal breeding ground for . . . well, finding someone with whom to breed.

I do believe that everywhere my children have gone and will go–from the playgrounds where they ephemerally encountered fellow littles (hat tip to E.  Lockhart)  to the coffee shops they may frequent; from the bands, dance troupes, trivia nights and game boards where they gather to the far-flung countries where they are immersed in different languages and cultures–is a way to learn how to love and value other people.

If romantic love comes to town along with that, fine.  And if not–as any widow or widower can tell you–that’s not all there is.

The capacity to love, wherever you found it, endures. Continue reading “Love Lessons: A Marriage Manifesto”

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