Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Relationship as Vale of Soul-Making

If it was this day in 1988, I'd be getting ready to be married. 

Our wedding was at 11 a.m.; we had guests who would have a long drive after the ceremony (back to Memphis, back to Virginia), so we wanted them to get an early start.

This pillow was made by one of my mom's friends.  It's astonishing that we've kept it in good shape.  It's a great metaphor, if I don't think about all the wedding presents that have been destroyed through the years.  Why did I put the gorgeous crystal pitcher in the dishwasher?  What was I thinking?  I don't want to see the metaphor there.

Happily, our marriage has more in common with fabric art than works of art in a more fragile medium.  The fabric does not shred apart completely; the trials we've faced have knotted us together.

Here you see a picture of us on this day in 1988, and the two of us at our 25th anniversary dinner last year.  What holds a couple together for 26 years?

Once I'd have said that common interests were important.  Once I'd have said a couple needs to have similar beliefs, whether they be religious in nature or a shared commitment to a social movement.  Once I'd have said that couples should have a similar outlook when it came to finances.

All these things might be true, but I'd go to something more essential if I was giving premarital counseling today.  I'd talk about the need for compassion and forgiveness.  If you're thinking about marrying someone who holds a grudge, I'd advise you to think long and hard before going through with that.

I have felt lucky because my spouse forgives me, even if I make the same mistake again, as humans do.  His compassionate nature helps him see that I'm trying and helps him see the factors that contributed to the mistake.  His compassionate nature helps him remember the greater good that he's seen in me and the potential that I have.

I try my very hardest to do the same for him. 

Sure, there are times when I wish I could change things.  I'd like to wave a magic wand and change our behavior or our circumstances.  But we have learned so much more because we don't have that magic wand.

I would argue that we can learn the same lessons in different schools:  through our relationships with our families, through our work with colleagues, through our friendships.  The great British poet John Keats called this world "a vale of Soul-making."  I would argue that it's our relationships, especially the ones that last for many years and decades, that most form our souls.  Even the relationships that don't end well have much to teach us.

I look back on that day and shake my head.  I was convinced I was so grown up; I had just turned 23.  But really, what do any of us know when we enter into such a union?  We think we know all that we need to know, but we will learn so much more. 

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