Tag: Marriage

5Jul

On Our Tenth Anniversary, One Year After the Fact

[Photo of the Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Barcelona] 

On our tenth anniversary, I wasn’t sure we’d make it to our eleventh.

Admitting that out loud is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. One doesn’t just up and say something like that; one keeps her head down and her best foot forward and her problems to herself until enough time has passed that she can preface the story with a respectable “Once upon a time…” One year certainly does not count as Enough.

As nerve-wracking as it may be to tell this to you right now though, admitting it to myself was far worse. Dan and I were catching up on The Office (Steve Carell version) at this time last year. The final season focuses heavily on a marriage that is struggling to survive the husband’s new work ventures, the wife’s new artistic opportunities, and the slow breakdown of communication over their decade-long relationship. I watched every episode in a kind of emotional stupor as our story—our work-related dreams and difficulties, our major life decisions, our inability to speak on the same page—flickered across the screen. Every line of it could have been written about us until the final episode, over which my sense of kinship with the characters crash-landed into the base of my throat. Because who was going to script our grand reconciliation? Who was going to supply us with the lines and the props that would make everything okay again?

I didn’t know if we had another year of marriage in us. By that, I don’t mean that I necessarily saw us getting a divorce, but I could no longer see joy in our future, no more easy camaraderie or neutral topics, no more uncensored breaths when the other was in the room. We no longer knew how to be ourselves in each other’s company, and if that didn’t right itself, then “husband and wife” would become no more than semantics.

I’m not ready to share all the details of our disconnect, but I will say this: Maintaining a healthy marriage while starting up a company in a foreign culture with a bureaucratic system designed by Caribbean crazy ants is… well, not im-POSSIBLE, but certainly im-PROBABLE (as our latest family read-aloud would say). Add to that a pair of children, fluctuating bank accounts, poor communication habits, and the wear and tear of so many years rubbing shoulders together, and it’s small wonder that we limped into last summer like a pair of emotional refugees.

We didn’t so much celebrate our tenth anniversary as we did survive it.

This was crushing to me. I had always thought of tenth anniversaries as milestones, gold-plated “You Are Here” signs along the paths of successful marriages. After ten years, we couldn’t fail to have our relationship figured out. After ten years, our exotic Hawaiian vow-renewal ceremony would practically write itself. After ten years… well, we definitely wouldn’t be staring down into our anniversary sangrias to avoid meeting each other’s eyes.

Expectations are the cruelest pranksters.

I opened up my computer about a hundred times that week to write a tribute to our marital “milestone”… a Facebook status if nothing else, a recitation of that annual mantra about each day together being better than the last. It was what everyone would be expecting. I couldn’t do it though. I loved Dan, but I had no vocabulary for making the daily canyon climb of our relationship sound like love. There was no heartwarming retrospect in which to package our struggle. I tried rising to the occasion, but my veins felt like they had been injected with plaster of Paris. I was alone, and Dan was alone, and the connection we still shared made our isolation all the more acute.

“I wanna turn this thing around
I wanna drink with you all night until we both fall down
‘Til we go low rising
Cause we’ve gotta come up
We’ve gotta come up”

Writing this one year later on the morning of our eleventh anniversary, I’d love to be able to say that we came, we saw, and we conquered this whole marriage business thank you very much. I’d bust into a Queen ballad while I was at it, maybe rip my sleeves to show off all those bulging interpersonal muscles I’ve developed. And truth be told, Dan and I have developed some interpersonal muscle power over the past year as we’ve fought our instincts and our habits and our expectations in order to fight for us.

But it hasn’t been a glamorous business, and we are nowhere close to throwing ourselves a victory parade. Rather, we’re more aware than we’ve ever been that marriage is not a thing to be vanquished. There is no finish line, no achievement score after which we can dust our hands off and call it a job well done. In fact, that’s part of where my thinking went wrong years ago, because success in marriage is not a destination at the end of an anniversary-studded path; success in marriage is the daily choice to connect. (You’re welcome to use that, Dr. Phil.)

The hardest truth I’ve learned over the past year is that the counter resets every morning. Just because we kicked ass at marriage yesterday (or last month, or on our honeymoon) doesn’t mean that we’ll be on the same page today. That has got to be one of the most unfair principles in the whole construct of humanity; can’t we just play the good rapport card and have it remain in circulation for the rest of the game?

No. No we cannot. That card might not even remain in circulation for the rest of the hour if our busy lives have anything to do with it.

Which is why my husband of eleven years and I have been relearning how to talk. We’ve been at it for around six months now, and do you know why toddlers need fifteen hours of sleep a day? Because learning how to talk is like running back-to-back triathlons in your own brain. Dan and I are having to rediscover when to talk, where to talk, what tones to use, and what wording will work… and then come the hows. How to bring up sensitive topics. How to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. How to be honest without weaponizing that honesty. How to confirm that we understand what the other is saying. Lord o’ mercy. This book has been helpful in getting us started, but the work we’re having to put into using the English language is like nothing I’ve experienced since the age of two. It makes us want nothing more than to zone out in front of the TV at the end of the day, arguably one of the main ways we ended up in this mess in the first place.

When we have enough energy (and/or resolve) to go spelunking in each other’s minds instead of zoning out though, good things happen. For instance, we remember that we like each other. We remember why we like each other too. Even when our conversations delve into places that wound or frighten, we’re together in the turbulence instead of standing under our single-serving rain clouds, and as much as I hate and resist those emotionally volatile talks, it’s worth remembering that Dan is the person I most want by my side through them.

On our tenth anniversary, I didn’t have the heart to share the following photo, snapped during a small pocket of happiness on our getaway to Barcelona. It looked like a lie to me—our smiles and closeness a tableau of everything our relationship lacked. I see it differently today though. That pocket of happiness wasn’t a lie; it was a success of the small, daily variety that counts the most to me now. We were making it, one shutter click at a time. One tongue-stumbling conversation when we’d rather reach for the remote. One afternoon set aside to rediscover why my husband is my favorite kind of company. One hard-won year to celebrate, not as a milestone but as 365 of them.

10th anniversary in Barcelona

16May

Curse-Word Hymns

One of the best things about road-tripping with Dan is getting those long, uninterrupted miles of time to talk. Early in our relationship, I worried that we’d eventually run out of things to say to each other, and I suppose there’s some validity in that. After all, we live together and work together and can pretty much catch up on each other’s news over a three-minute espresso break. Our day-to-day interactions tend to cluster around the present though—how work projects are going, what to do about Parenting Challenge #5,000,008, which brand of toothpaste is on sale at the grocery store, who’s going to take one for the team and vacuum—and while these are all incredibly glamorous and sexy topics to be sure, they don’t exactly cover the scope of human communication.

In eleven years of marriage, we haven’t left many conversational stones unturned, but coming back to them is always a new experience. I’ve changed so much in the past decade. My views on any given subject are liable to be 180º degrees from what they were when we first talked through it, and part of me feels guilty over that, as if I got Dan to choose me based on false advertising. His love has proven to be expansive though, more than enough to cover all the different iterations of me. Through Dan’s unconditional fondness for me, I’ve been able to grasp the idea of a spacious God… and that’s where one of our road-trip conversations led us last weekend.

We were talking about how people commune with God, and I confessed that no matter how much I’ve tried over the last several years, I just cannot get my soul to click with religious music anymore. Christian bands, worship songs, pretty much any churchy phrases set to chords chafe at me like an outgrown hat. This makes me sad sometimes. I remember what it was like to agree with my heart and my vocal cords with the sentiments of an entire congregation, to float out of my body on the strains of communal devotion. I don’t have that anymore.

But talking with my husband about it helped me re-remember for the umpteenth time that I don’t have to fit in a mold to love and be loved by God. I don’t have to speak or think or vote like a stereotypical Christian (whatever that might be) in order to align my life with Jesus. I don’t have to accept traditional spiritual practices as the only way. And I don’t have to connect with “religious music” to have a religious musical experience. In the end, this thrills me far more than it saddens me. Finding God in unexpected places makes spirituality real to me in a way that predictable experiences never do, so if God is meeting me through rap rather than hymns, I can only take that as proof that my ever-changing self is still very much covered by love.

I haven’t done a Non-Churchy Songs for the Soul roundup in a while, but today feels just right for sharing eight more unconventional tracks that are pulling at my soul-strings these days:

1. Glósóli by Sigur Rós
I can’t watch this video without crying. I know that drum-beating rescuer with the kind eyes, don’t you see. This is the story of Jesus… and of the tremulous hope, the rag-tag trust, and the dizzying joy of freedom that have become my story too.

“And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are…”

2. Rambling Man by Laura Marling
All of Laura’s songs are poetry, but this one in particular folds me into a higher mindset. It’s introspection and self-evaluation and a determined authenticity, and the video above should give you a clue as to how I interpret the rambling life.

“It’s a cold and a pale affair,
And I’ll be damned if I’ll be found there.
Oh give me to a rambling man,
Let it always be known that I was who I am.”

3. Starting Over by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
I have proven myself incapable of doing anything but sitting up to listen when Macklemore’s on the stereo. This track is one of the best biographies of grace I’ve ever heard, and it always makes me grateful for the hard, beautiful work of being human together. (Just a heads up that this song involves decidedly non-churchy language.)

“We fall so hard,
Now we gotta get back what we lost.
I thought you’d gone,
But you were with me all along.”

4. I Want to be Well by Sufjan Stevens
I’ve posted this song before because it so fully expresses my gut feelings/thoughts/prayers when PTSD yanks my breath out from under me. (Note: The following does not involve polite language either.) What comes to mind when I listen to it is a question from the Bible that Jesus asked a lifelong invalid: “Do you want to get well?” How many times had that man wailed to God, “I’m not fucking around”? And to learn, after all those years, that neither was God…

 “I want to be well, I want to be well,
I want to be well, I want to be well.
I’m not fucking around, I’m not, I’m not,
I’m not fucking around.”

5. Me and God by The Avett Brothers
Now, you know I’ve got to love anyone who admits to using curse words when they pray. (See: previous two songs.) I can still remember what it was like to read in the Bible, of all places, that God just wanted our honest, simple selves—no church-sanctioned polish, no middle men on pedestals, just us. The relief of it still makes me grin wide.

 “Well I found God in a soft woman’s hair,
A long day’s work and a good sittin’ chair,
The ups and downs of the treble clef lines,
And five miles ago on an interstate sign.
My God, my God and I don’t need a middle man.”

6. When Death Dies by Gungor
I’m fudging my own rules to include this self-proclaimed Christian band on the list, but I’ve never heard a beat-boxing cellist at church, so I think you’ll forgive me. This song is everything I believe about heaven, everything I believe we get to dream of one day.

 “Where it comes, poor men feast.
Kings fall down to their knees.
When death dies, all things live,
All things live.”

7. Bible Belt by Dry the River
This is another one that speaks directly to my experience growing up under fundamentalism. It’s sad and beautiful and ultimately shining bright with the hope that comes of bravery and companionship. And if I said that Jesus was the one waiting for me on the 5:45 to whisk me away from the Bible Belt, would you believe me?

“Cause we’ve been through worse than this before we could talk.
The trick of it is, don’t be afraid anymore.”

8. Take Up Your Spade by Sarah Watkins
Sarah’s always had a way of making life sound uncomplicated and pure, and this little hymn to new days and new grace helps get me out of bed when the morning dawns heavy. Plus, that’s Fiona Apple singing with her. Perfection.

 “Shake off your shoes, leave yesterday behind you,
Shake off your shoes but forget not where you’ve been,
Shake off your shoes, forgive and be forgiven;
Take up your spade and break ground.”

What about you? Any songs been tugging at your soul-strings lately?

Previous roundups:

Sweaty Horns, Cracking Voices

Reggae and Redemption

Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam

13Mar

Marital Work-Study

Earlier this week, two story endings collided with each other in my headspace. The first was the leave-all-the-lights-on season finale of True Detective. (Did you see it? And will you ever step foot on a nature preserve again?) Less than twenty-four hours later, I finished reading (and by reading, I mean listening to the audiobook version of) Gone Girl. If you haven’t watched or read these yet, don’t worry; my blog is spoiler-free. All you need to know for the purposes of this post is that both stories involve, to some extent or another, a marriage that is unraveling.

It’s so easy to follow the decline of love when it’s outlined in pithy narrative, isn’t it? We watch fictional spouses behave like idiots or ingrates and wonder how in God’s name they don’t see what’s coming to them. We see all the little tendernesses taken for granted and the little barbs of bitterness digging in. We groan when the unhappily married protagonist catches the eye of some young hot thing at a bar because we already know the trajectory of that eye contact, how it will brush against skin and burrow into bed before curving toward a final showdown of heartbreak. Relational cause-effect is obvious under the lens of story.

Without that lens though, out in the unfiltered single-take of reality, nothing is obvious. When I look at my husband across the breakfast table, I don’t have a camera crew helping me zoom in on the adorable curve of his grin. There is no spotlight positioned to bring out the color of his eyes, no director coaxing my perspective toward an unseen worry line, no narrator highlighting the nuances of his words. I don’t think to study him, not the way I do movie characters. It doesn’t occur to me to practice literary analysis on the open book of our marriage. It doesn’t occur to me to notice.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week while mulling over plot lines (and debating whether or not to set foot in the state of Louisiana again). I can see so clearly how fictional husbands and wives sabotage their intimacy, but can I see it in myself? Do I have enough perspective to spot the inattention or fierce bouts of selfishness that I wedge into my marriage?

We celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary this summer. I’d always thought that by ten years, I’d have marriage down pat, as if it were a skill that muscle memory could take over for me. I’ve come to see that that’s the real issue though—my ever thinking that long-term love should be as automatic and reflexive as pedaling a bike.

The following Fiona Apple song has been on repeat in my head lately, my mind reverberating with her line, “You’re more likely to get cut with a dull tool than a sharp one.” Isn’t that the truth of relationships? The hard, undeniable truth that passivity is lethal in matters of love? Here’s the song, every line razor-edged with honesty (I’ll warn you that the language isn’t polite, so listen at your own discretion):


“You forgot you have to try,
you have to try,
you have to try…”

The truth is that I don’t have marriage down pat. I do have to try, still, every day. Dan and I are continuously figuring out the practical implications of that vaguely ominous newlywed admonishment, “Marriage takes work.” (Best if said with funereal voice and knelling head.) I will freely admit that I had no idea what this meant when I first got married. What could possibly constitute “work” when it came to something as nebulous and giddy as love?

On the off-chance that you’re wondering the same thing right now, here is by far the most practical definition that “work” has taken (is taking) in my own marriage: intentionality. Being present when we’re together rather than letting my mind drift. Making conscious decisions about our relationship rather than letting it slide into poor habits. Noticing my husband. Being curious about him. Paying attention to what’s going on behind the scenes of his words and actions. Considering what goes into my words and actions in response. Setting aside time to spend with him. Letting him in on what I’m thinking. Being proactive about everything from affection to problem-solving. Intentionality, intentionality, intentionality.

And goodness, is that ever an example of easier said than done. Dan and I have kids. We both work from home. We are busy (which I fully realize is code for “average adult humanoid”), and we both want our relationship to be a respite from work, a worry-free zone where we can kick our feet up in easy companionship. The last thing that we want to do most evenings is sit down at the table to hash out communication issues and try to delve into each other’s psyches. That’s when being present in our relationship really does constitute work. Hard work. Hard work that—despite my love for that man—I would really, really rather not put in most of the time. (Just being honest, folks.)

Without intentionality though, a relationship begins to slip as surely as a rock climber whose concentration has lapsed. I know this. I’ve watched it happen before in my own marriage, a marriage which started out so breezily that I couldn’t imagine a context for work within it. I’m aware there are many, many other factors that go into relationships—communication skills, compatibility, psychological elements, circumstantial ones—but this is a big one. Like Ms. Apple sings, you have to try, you have to try, you HAVE to TRY. Without effort, without the genuine inconvenient labor of being present, a marriage can crumble into the past tense.

I would rather live here in the muddy now working to harmonize my perspective with my husband’s than be an narrator omniscient with retrospect, aware of all the wrong turns we took but powerless to change our story. I don’t want this good thing we have here to slip away when [because] I’m not looking. That’s why I’m writing this post, in fact: not because I’m trying to join the ranks of lugubrious advice-givers but because acknowledgement is such a big part of intentionality. I want this down in writing, for myself as much as for anyone else, as a reminder that marriage can be hard—really hard—but that hard can also be good.

Really good.


Photo by Dalton Photography

25Feb

Cappuccino On The House

Now that we’re on the other side of the holidays and [nearly]never-ending head colds, we’re settling into a pretty great morning routine here at Casa de Bassett. Dan gets up first—how early, I can never bring myself to ask—and then brings me a cappuccino sometime in the 6:00 range. I spend the next hour and a half filling my soul up to the brim with reading, journaling, and music, just me in the pre-dawn lamplight. (A note: If I skip this part of my day, I feel disconnected from myself and God and basically just turn into Gozer the Gozerian until nightfall. As much as I might think I like sleeping in, nothing beats this early morning routine for making me feel human.) I then help the girls get ready for the day, and Dan walks them to school around 8:00 while I work out. After breakfast and various concessions to hygiene, we disappear into separate rooms, he to the office to run his business, me to my writing nook to tease words out of hiding, until school pickup and lunch with the girls.

My afternoons are usually spent wearing my other hats—mom, housekeeper, errand-runner, book-keeper, friend—and then Dan and I get the evenings just for us. The mornings are what I wanted to talk about though. More specifically, the 6 a.m. cappuccino part of the mornings.

Those coffees that Dan delivers, steaming hot with the perfect sprinkling of raw sugar, are what get me out of bed. No question. My sleep-drunk brain has the willpower to hold out against alarm clocks and knocking on the door, wakeful children and good intentions, principalities and powers and everything really except a delicious source of caffeine set within arm’s reach. After 10½ years of marriage, this is an established fact.

And yet… morning after morning, when my husband’s whisper and the scent of coffee tug me toward consciousness, my gratefulness is quickly superseded by guilt. The blunt truth is that I don’t feel I deserve his kindness. At 6 in the morning, I haven’t had a chance yet to make up for yesterday’s relational blunders, much less the weeks and years of marital TLC received on the house. The only strings attached to my husband’s sweet gesture are of my own invention, but I can invent some real humdingers when it comes to guilt and what-I-deserve.

In this kind of situation, the kind in which my brain translates love into liability, the Shoulds are especially eager to bolster my neurosis with their shackle-heavy logic. You should feel bad, they explain. You should be doing more to deserve a husband like yours. In fact, you should be the one bringing him coffee in bed instead of snoozing away expecting to be served. (Ever thought about trying that “helpmeet” label on for size?) You should require less sleep, less handholding, less of your husband’s valuable energy, and certainly less caffeine. No proper wife would rely on room service each morning. You should be ashamed of yourself.

And I do feel ashamed. I blush red-hot anytime my morning coffee comes up in conversation, sure that everyone is now wondering why Dan chose to marry such a lazy-ass diva slug. I indulge in a masochistic round of criticism every night when I purposefully don’t set my alarm. I’ve even tried talking Dan out of making me coffee ever again, but he’ll have none of my self-recrimination. “I do this because I love you,” he says. “End of story. Besides, do you have any idea how hard it is to make a cappuccino and bring it to the bedroom?”

“Something on par with Hercules slaying the Hydra and then rolling it Sisyphus-style up Mount Olympus while an eagle feeds on his liver?”

“Uh… no.”

Unfortunately, since Dan refuses to stop coaxing me awake every morning with a mug of dark-roasted excellence, my only option is to accept his loving gesture as such. This is hard, folks. I don’t know if it has more to do with my personality or with the tit-for-tat theology of my childhood, but I cannot easily wrap my brain around the idea of gift. Instead, I keep grasping at the concept of fair, an even slate in which nothing is owed and favors are performed in equal balance.

This is so not the way of love though, and I know it. When I’m able to pull my perspective back from the limits of my own small experience, I can see that this is how the world was always meant to operate—with selfless intention, with joy in the giving, with the extravagant grace that shows fairness to be a miser by comparison. In this world, the fact that I am loved is a songbird ready to soar on a breeze or a tune at any given moment. No strings attached.

Gift is a concept I’m working to comprehend, and I may not fully grasp it this side of heaven. For better or worse, I will always have this brain to contend with, and this brain can’t easily remove “deserve” from its vocabulary. I have ample opportunities to try though; my husband and his string-free 6:00 cappuccinos are seeing to that.

11Mar

Diagramming Pessimism

The other day at breakfast, Dan said something characteristically Dan-y, like “What great weather!” and I said something characteristically me-y, like “There’s probably a tornado hiding behind that sunbeam,” and then we spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to the girls what optimists and pessimists are and why it’s good to have one of each as a parent. (He plans camping trips in Ireland, I remember to pack the umbrellas. We work.)

Truth be told though, it’s very, very hard for me to believe my cranky pessimist personality has anything positive good to offer the world. Even as I was extolling my natural gift for predicting worst case vacation scenarios and assuring my serious older daughter that neither personality is better or worse than the other, my mind was making a liar out of me, contradicting every upbeat word that left my mouth. It rattled me as it always does to catch myself teaching what I don’t believe.

My personality has much to do with why this little corner of the Internet has been so silent lately. I’ve been sunk under three particular adjectives that have weighed down my heart and my bones as effectively as cinder blocks:

Hopeless.

Powerless.

Guilty.

I’ve been looking at different facets of my life and seeing portraits of black holes in their place. When trying to troubleshoot, I’ve been met with the overwhelming sense that there is nothing to hope for or move toward, that there is nothing I can do to change this, and that I should be ashamed of myself for wanting more, that my deep debt to happiness must now be paid in drudgery. It’s crushed me into my pillows in the morning and pricked me into tossing wakefulness at night.

And it’s untrue. I know that, even as I forget how to feel it. This lean toward depression, this willingness to lie under cinder blocks and accept a reality of cherry-picked discouragements, it is the dark side of my personality. There are other factors too, of course—stresses past and present that leech the color and gravitational pull from life—but pessimism is what turns dreary splotches into black holes. Pessimism is what turns uncertainty into hopelessness and challenge into powerlessness and restlessness into guilt.

Over the breakfast table the other day as I chirped about diversity this and beautiful-and-unique-snowflake that, I was really just thinking how f-ing tired I am of channeling Debbie Downer. Can’t a girl get a break from having to lug negativity around in her DNA? Doesn’t it qualify as a huge cosmic mistake that the thing I most often have to fight is the very thing draining the fight out of me? I would rather forget the umbrellas every single time than have my mind tuned as it is to the pulse of rain.

However, in the days since that falsely cheerful conversation, I’ve begun to realize that I don’t actually not-believe what I told my girls about personality neutrality. That is, I have trouble believing it when it comes to myself and the little black raincloud hanging over my head, but I cherish the difference in my daughters’ outlooks. I love the one’s habitual seriousness and the other’s innate silliness. I see how they form a beautiful Venn diagram of sisterhood, their personalities complementing and coloring each other’s, and I wouldn’t wish sameness on them for the world.

And perhaps the fact that I’m seeing it this way is proof of other Venn diagrams, ones forming behind the scenes of my marriage and my friendships, each one drawing my personality a little closer to balance. I’m never going to be Susie Sunshine; that would require complete genetic mutation and possibly narcotics. However, I’m seeing the Hopeless and Powerless and Guilty through more objective eyes this week—eyes that have spotted their reflection in my daughters’ beautiful faces, eyes that are noticing color again—and it seems that a girl can get the occasional break from channeling Debbie Downer after all.

18Feb

Sacred to Silence

I’m sitting in the gym café while the girls hip and hop their funky little hearts out upstairs. Behind me, espresso cups clatter their way to the dishwasher, which swishes steadily behind the occasional train-blast of the milk steamer. All around me, voices upon voices—soccer buddies jostling for sandwiches to fill the bottomless void of their teenage stomachs, trainers discussing workout plans with seat-shifting clients, children playing Rabid Banshee Tag while their mothers chat and pretend not to notice the other patrons huffing in their direction, P!nk expressing her punchy brand of heartache over the speakers. One hour ago, I was teaching English to a room full of first- and second-graders whose speaking voices, as any elementary teacher knows, are approximately the same volume and pitch as rioting cats, and before that, there was the unsuccessful attempt to nap to the groove of our friendly neighborhood jackhammer.

Folks, I’m all noised out.

I think that this, more than anything, explains why I was so supportive of Dan’s plan to give up television shows for the month. Here’s the truth of things—we’re work-from-homers and small-child-wranglers, and there is nothing as mind-numbingly delicious at the end of a day as sinking into the sofa cushions and zoning out to a good murder mystery, or two… or three… But that was where the problem was, because no number of charmingly predictable plot-lines was sufficient to empty our minds of the day’s noise. The television just piled on top of it, muffling rather than quieting, and reasonable bedtimes would come and go without us ever quite managing to zone our way into tranquility.

So we gave up the numbing agent that never actually numbed, and that first evening, after corralling the kids into bed, Dan and I stood looking at each other like strangers on Mars. What was he doing there? What was I doing there? What is proper etiquette on Mars anyway? Does this other life-form even speak English? In the end, the only thing we knew to do with our tired selves was to put them to bed.

Let me tell you, it doesn’t take many evenings of awkward alien stare-downs with one’s own spouse to realize how desperately your habits need a facelift. There has been so much noise in our life, so much self-inflicted distraction, that we haven’t noticed the other’s voice was missing. And now, with the silence stretching between us like a foreign sandscape, we have to relearn what to do with it. How to shape our brainwaves and heartbeats into words. How to hear, really hear, the other’s meaning. How to be companionably silent together again.

In fact, I’m having to relearn how to be companionably silent with myself as well. My mind has been startling into retreat, doe-like, from the auditory clutter around me, and there has been no space for the gentle osmosis of grace. God and I have been communicating like we’re on opposite sides of a train yard. My heart’s ears are ringing as if this clattering, steaming, banshee-ing café were my whole wide world, and as much as I’d like to drown out the ringing, to muffle it with noise of my own choosing and numb every tired molecule of my being into oblivion, I know I need something different.

I need deliberate quiet, at least for now, at least until the ringing stops. I need to arrest my finger on its way to the play button and let running dishwater be the only soundtrack to my thoughts. I need to stand under the sky at least once a day and breathe it in, like I did as a child, until I’m spinning from my own smallness. I need to resurrect the art of question-asking and practice listening to hear. I need to combat tiredness with sleep (novel concept, I know) and loneliness with intention and all the many, many inescapable noises of everyday life with moments held sacred to silence.

Honestly, I don’t know that a month without television shows is going to be enough.

15Nov

Recon

We lean against the kitchen counter with our espresso cups, the delicate painted porcelain ones he brought back from Sweden with an apologetic smile. He knew only too well that I would have rather had the trip than its souvenir. Travel was one of the first topics to draw us into each other’s orbits a decade ago, and now the scrapbook of our shared memory is fat with airport sprints and linguistic rodeos, not to mention the foreign hospital trips that are as good as guaranteed when globetrotting with young children. Still, my heart makes a habit of packing light, always reconnoitering our next big adventure.

I know his does too. Right now, he is dreaming aloud about next summer, and I thrill at the way his ideas leap like salmon up the rush of our present reality. My husband’s mind is never intimidated by the pushback of probability, and I’ve learned not to underestimate the survival skills of these rainbow-finned dreams (just as he’s learned not to bring them up without first offering caffeine).

Scotland, Slovenia, China, Brazil… the words dissolve like pillow mints on my imagination, leaving behind traces of pastel sugar and reckless hope. I wonder if one of these flights of fancy will solidify next summer or if we will just continue to catch glints of them in the moments before they re-submerge. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Dreaming and scheming and scribbling carefree lines across the map is as much part of what makes us us as packing the car to the gills and turning the key is, and I know that our leaning against the kitchen counter right now, coffee cups and possibilities in hand, is all part of the adventure.

~~~ 

What do you daydream about with your significant other?

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