Sunday, July 22, 2012
In August we will be attending two weddings. In the first, I will stand with a sister-friend to whom a corner of my soul belongs. The second, two weeks later, will be the wedding of my little brother, who has – when I wasn’t looking – grown into a fine man. Both couples will honeymoon near the sea. And because I have marriage and the ocean on my mind, I noticed a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s meditations on the intertwining of these two subjects at the thrift store on Thursday. I bought it for $1.89. I still intend to give it to my sister-friend, but thought I should reread it first. And I am glad I did. Lindbergh first published the collection of meditations in 1955, and I find her grapplings with the life’s basic tensions (between self and other, woman and man, woman and family, solitude and community) speaking to me a second time.
She quotes from the poet Rilke: “A complete sharing between two people is an impossibility, and whenever it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a mutual agreement which robs either one member or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that, even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!”
There is much that can be said on the topic of marriage. My experience of the institution generally, and my own covenant with my husband, breathes and grows and changes. That is the nature of living things. And so my own collection of thoughts here is in no way definitive or complete. But Lindbergh has stuck a cord, and I want to play it just a minute.
Surely, there is certainly a type of distancing in marriage which it cannot endure, as well as a righteous call to protect it with one’s life and feed it time and prayer and closeness. But I also have to remember honestly that at the outset I saw in my husband what I had not seen in any other man I had dated, namely, space for me to grow. He seemed to see me, and to understand that, at twenty-two, there wasn’t much for either of us to know about who I would be at thirty or forty or seventy-five. I have always loved that about him. And I think that is the kind of space to which Rilke speaks. Not the distancing of cold silences and diverging interests, but the space to move and breath, to look up each morning in anticipation of manna, and stretch out an arm towards impossible dreams.
Lindbergh, like many before her, takes up the metaphor of dance: “A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back – it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners, moving to the same rhythm, creating patterns together, and being invisibly nourished by it.”
Even as she carries the image, Lindbergh acknowledges the difficulty in learning to move this way, going on to suggest that is it fear that keeps us from ever becoming really good dancers: “[We] cling nostalgically to the last moment or clutch greedily towards the next. Fear destroys the ‘winged life’" and precludes a humble, naked look at the veritable nature of our affection. Emotionally, we can be nothing more than we are. And emotionally, we are intermittent. Lindbergh: “When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom . . . in the present relationship” as it is now. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ himself warns against storing up tomorrows worries (Matt. 6:34). He promises that our Heavenly Father knows what we need and is able to provide. And if God himself is to provide our portion, we are then free to dance with our partner in the present without fear.
And so this is what I pray for my loved ones which will walk the isle next month and what I want to give my own husband this year: three-hundred-and-sixty-five days of dancing in the present, close enough to feel the warmth of love, but with enough space to appreciate the sacred gift of Other against a wide sky.