Sorrow is irrevocably paired with kindness. Perspective can be pain’s companion. Fear of what lies ahead may be mirrored by hope. What’s lost has been perennially entwined with what may be found.
Loss can be as much about transformation and adaptation as it is about dissipation. One does not ordinarily wish to lose things, but we are powerless against the sea changes wrought when the universe takes away what we have loved.
Yet love’s labours may not be lost so much as they will be reconfigured for us, and we may even learn to find beauty in the world we occupy after such loss. “At Christmas I no more desire a rose/ Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows, /But like each thing that in season grows.” (It’s an observation not remotely worthy of Shakespeare’s metaphorical finesse . . . but I confess I still crave roses in December; I have, however, come to accept that roses will no longer be coming my way.)
” . . . [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?”).
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.
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.
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.
A few nights ago I was running a respectable fever and was utterly miserable. The plates of my skull seemed to shift; fireworks went off behind my eyes; the supply of tissues was exhausted long before my sneezing fits ebbed.
It was a solitary pity party. That is to say, it ranked well below one of my parades of drudgery.
It may be akin to the sound of a tree falling in the woods if there’s no one to hear it; it’s not much of a pity party if one’s whining is all directed inward.
(I considered titling this post in a more blatantly self-pitying way, with the entirely accurate recounting of the night that “I was a Single Helix at a Doubles Party,” but that shall have to wait until another time.) Continue reading “Fever’s Edge”
When I dropped my daughter off at school yesterday morning, police and campus security were cordoning off huge sections of Exeter in anticipation of a Town Hall visit by the Vice-President. It was a rote and reasonable plan for the dangers inherent in any such high-profile political appearance.
But one can only truly plan for the imaginable.
Looking out the window last night I saw not the small town I’ve come to know, for better and worse, but sights I’d never seen in twenty-five years as a prosecutor. Nor had I seen anything remotely like this when my husband and I lived for years in a Boston neighborhood possessing an (undeservedly) bad reputation for crime.
The sounds came first: screaming sirens, a police car careening around the corner while others cars and ambulances rushed in the other direction. The dogs began to yelp and bay.
I assumed the imaginable: a terrible accident, perhaps a lightning strike. But the emergency vehicles kept coming, including, eventually, an armored truck with what appeared to be military personnel perched on the back. The lone local elementary school’s parking lot, adjoining a much-used colorful playground, was transformed into something resembling a military command center.
By nightfall I saw only blue flashing lights, punctuated with red; a bright flashing yellow light on a pole planted just across from my window; and a sea of more diffuse white light from the outdoor floodlights neighbors–those already in their homes before police set up the barricaded zone–cast on their yards. A helicopter could be heard overhead.