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The View From Across the Table at Fifty-five Years




            It’s still a mystery.

            Perhaps I should say–it’s more of a mystery than ever.

            Fifty-five years ago, there was nothing particularly mysterious about it: we were in love, we believed in sealing our love with marriage, and we assumed we’d have the rest of our lives together. It belonged to the nature of things.

            We had grown up, a continent apart, each watching the marriages around us, notably, our parents,’ and each intuitively, as well as consciously, hoping and planning for the day at some—not too far off—future date. Each having very little doubt it would happen; it was just a matter of time.

            And so we met, and so we courted, and so we married. Begun in excitement and anticipation, we experienced the let-downs, the renewals, the joy; melded our lives, raised children, adjusted our expectations, grew comfortable with each other. We celebrated anniversaries and faithfulness and were thankful for what we had been given in each other.

            Surprisingly, then, well into four decades of marriage, I began to ponder the mystery: why would a man choose to spend the whole of his life with a woman, with one woman—this man, my husband, with this woman, me? Why would any man agree to such a thing? Fully intending to carry it out until death? Vowing the same?

            Did he vow blindly, never considering he might become bored, bored with my conversation, bored with the same daily face across the table, with my habits and limitations, with the dreams I could never fulfill? Bored with my aging body and graying hair? Did he have any inkling of an idea of what he was getting into? 

            Would he not miss a man’s conversation, a man’s camaraderie, a man’s exchange of ideas, a man’s strength in place of a woman’s (relative) weakness? A face and habits and thought processes closer to his own?

            There’s no mistaking a man’s legitimate physical desire for a woman and no underestimating, certainly, the power of, the longing for, the anticipation of years of unhindered and fully legal—and joyful—sex. But there are all those other hours and days to fill, all those ordinary and even tedious tasks and breakfasts and sicknesses and arguments over child-rearing and disappointments and sufferings.

            Astonishingly then, perhaps, we continue, my husband and I, day in and day out, to have conversations. We face each other across the table, sometimes three times a day. We haven’t run out of things to talk about. Oh, at times, they are mundane enough. More often, though, they are laced with enjoyment of the daily or replete with the pondering of ideas and life’s complicated and fascinating questions.

            Marriage is nuanced, certainly. All kinds of things distract, detract, consume, vie for attention. But over, under, around, and through married life is conversation, exchange of words.

            A woman thrives on this. We crave this kind of attention that leads to intimacy which leads, in turn, to the comforting knowledge that we are interesting people, but, deeper still, that we are cherished. For this, we marry.

            But a man? A man who lives his life outwardly, whose work takes him, usually, away from home on a daily basis, with a man’s need to expend strength, to prove his mettle, to take risks—can he be content with conversation?

            So it is a wonder, then, and wonderful, that a man marries a woman, knowing full well, at least in our Western culture, that he will be expected to talk. To carry on conversation, to look at this woman he has chosen, day after day across the table, and make meaningful and engaged exchange, face to face, eye to eye, and that, for life.

            I can only think that there was something in the original idea from the dawn of time that answers to this mystery. And that original idea was complementarity. Something deep within the man is answered by something deep within the woman that can be answered only by her. Not by her words only but by her very being that, as a woman, speaks, corresponds to, his very being as a man. She completes him—not his sentences, but his nature. In the same way, he completes her.

            I have found, to my delight and awe, that I am this man’s sounding-board. He may go to others, to his male friends, yes, but he comes to me, his counterpart in all its mystery.

            At our wedding, my newly-minted husband spoke these words of Robert Browning which now hang on our bedroom wall, inscribed under the photo of us walking down the aisle:

“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be/the last of life for which the first was made/Our times are in His hands/who saith, ‘A whole I have planned/trust God, see all, be not afraid.’” i

            So, then. He looked ahead, my young husband did, with the expectation of growing old together, our conversations inexhaustible, fusing inexorably into a kind of sum of the two of us, a whole. A whole of which there should be no fear—no fear of sameness or boredom, rather hopeful that today’s mundane conversation might offer meaning tomorrow, confident that our two halves, male and female, would yield something other, something more complete than they could have at the beginning.

            Amused and mystified, some mornings now, fifty-five years later, I look across at my husband and think—there he still is. Still talking to me, still listening, our conversations built on the super-structure of our shared years and countless exchanges, personal or public, commonplace and mundane or deeper and satisfying, built on a knowledge of each other, a knowledge that is not yet depleted, as we are not.

            The view today may look the same as yesterday’s, but it is, after all, a new day.

            I smile.

            I like the view.

            Pass the cereal, please.


i "Rabbi ben Ezra by Robert Browning

 

This essay won first prize for non-fiction at the St. David’s Christian Writers’ Conference, 2019. Except it was titled “The View from Across the Table at Forty-Five Years.” But it’s still true.

 

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2 commenti


Oh my gosh! I sure like this one!

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Thank you, Virgil!

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