“Can I help with the turkey?” Dad inquired at 8:00 a.m., approaching slowly, barely able to stand, with his thrift store not-a-walker, which has become his favorite walker. “No,” Mom responded definitively. Of course not. She has planned this Thanksgiving turkey bake for weeks. She bought the frozen turkey a month ago, placed it in the refrigerator a week ago, and dressed it an hour ago. “Should we turn the oven on now?” he queried, wanting to helpful, but much to late in the process to be helpful. “No, the turkey isn’t going in until 9:00,” she explained. The more Dad tried to help, the more he intruded on her well-made plans. “If we turn the oven on now, it will be pre-heated by 9:00,” he ventured again. “That’s too early,” she barked. “The oven only takes ten minutes to pre-heat.” Dad slinked away slowly, unable to be helpful, because he had not made the plan and did not know the plan, and because his too-late suggestions interloped on the well-established plan. He had been good-hearted, well-meaning, but extraneous. I watched this collapsed negotiation and felt an ache. Mom and Dad have navigated their relationship for 62 years. Are they any better at it now than early on? Are the negotiations any easier than at first? Relationships are always a challenge, always a negotiation, always a struggle of overlapping egos and an accommodation of disparate wills. Even the good-hearted and well-meaning work to exhaustion nudging those two wills to one purpose. After my 27-year marriage, I was beyond tired, and I wonder still these seven years later if I would ever find the courage and strength to take up anew the dance of negotiation and compromise. Being alone is so much easier, having only occasional arguments with myself. But at times I pull out the scales and examine the platters hung on chains, weighing the ease of aloneness against the terribleness of loneliness, watching them teeter on the fulcrum of elusive equilibrium. Dad asked me to string the bushes with Christmas lights, since he cannot do it anymore, with particular colors in a particular order on particular bushes, and I invited my capable creative son John to help me. He suggested a fun variety of colors for adjacent bushes, nowhere close to Dad’s plan, but I figured Dad would not really notice, not being able to walk anywhere near that far, and rarely seeing his yard after dark. Just then Dad shot through the front door on his power wheelchair to come inspect my work. And I figured it would be better, in this case, to ask permission than forgiveness, so I intercepted him en route, told him of John’s color notion, and asked him if that would be alright. Of course, having been asked, he said yes, and sat in his chair on the sidewalk, cheering us on, expressing his excitement and gratitude. “I just love seeing Christmas lights on my bushes. This is important to me, and makes me happy.” That negotiation worked out well—I love happy endings—and did not even leave me feeling taxed. The job done, he wheeled and we walked into the house for small slices of very rich French pear almond tart.
Tag Archives: Relationships
Courage at Twilight: So Many Singles
Most of Barber’s Adagio for Strings is intensely hushed and weeping, so Mom turns up the volume, but then The School for Scandal blares its horns and winds and Mom mercifully lowers the volume down to middling. Yesterday’s emotional volume flood-gushed and cymbal-crashed and left me feeling worn and ready to withdraw for an extended sabbatical to my cool dark cave. More than five-hundred singles had gathered at their annual conference, people just like me: 41+ years old, friends and members of my Church, divorced, widowed, or never married. I had plumbed my vulnerability reserves and found just enough courage to attend my first-ever event for older singles. I stood in a corner and scanned the crowd, not as a predator, but as a fascinated intimidated spectator who feared being thrust into the arena. People of all sizes, styles, and shapes, elegant to homely, hubris to humility. Women glanced at me curiously (thirstily?), and men haughtily, and moved on. I recognized that here was a room filled with pain and struggle, filled with dark disappointments, filled with raw effort and growth and triumph—these have all been mine, too, so I guessed I fit fairly in. I met many over ice-breakers and Polish sausages: Jessica, who has lost 70 pounds, no longer eats sugar, and does not work, being supported by her children; and Keith, who lost his wife to cancer, waited six months, and now is on the hunt; and Deborah, a graphics artist and child advocate who lost a son to muscular dystrophy and loves nature and hiking and was delightful to talk to; and Eric who recently moved from the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and who “just” runs a local warehouse; and Eileen, who jumped in to help set up round tables and unfold steel chairs and toss tablecloths because she was there and was needed; and many others during a black-out bingo mixer in which I would not participate because one had to make animal impressions (I finally yielded one dead-pan “ruff ruff”) and show off dance moves (having lost them decades ago, if I ever had them), gaze into someone’s eyes unspeaking for sixty seconds (oh God, never again!), and play rounds of Rock Paper Scissors to help ladies get their “bingo!” (kind of fun, actually). Keith decided he was my pal, and stuck to me while I mingled and politely conversed with the ladies. A room full of pain, I thought, and triumph. And I decided I admired every single person present (well, they were all single) for their willingness to be vulnerable, their courage to show up and be seen, their determination to hold intact their sense of value, their resolve to grow through suffering. Dancing came later, but I felt too terrified to attend, and Mom and Dad had a neighborhood party to go to, and I was their driver. I would like to see Deborah again.
(Pictured above: a small number of our group who hiked to the lower falls of Battlecreek Canyon, my favorite part of the singles conference activities.)
Courage at Twilight: Be Still, My Soul
From my seat in the choir loft, I looked out upon a sea of 500 faces. Panning slowly, I looked at the details of each face, especially the eyes. And I could tell that all these people sitting in church on a Sunday morning were good people, wanting to do their duty to each other and to God and the Church. Many couples sat beside each other, their children by their side, or alone where their children had grown. A number of adults sat without partners. Like mine, each face held a story of heartache and loss and grief, and joy. I pondered how their stories are not part of mine, and how my story is not part of theirs. We may cross paths from time to time, but we do not walk the same specific path together. I experienced again the sensation that I would walk the remainder of my path alone. The possibility remains that I might meet a compatible companion, who I now cannot imagine—it might happen. But to flourish in this present moment I have to let go of that ephemeral possibility. Several times I have worked hard to make a relationship happen, but these fabrications have always failed, painfully. In this and other oceans of faces, good faces, I have found no face or soul to belong to. And that is just as well. I have written elsewhere about my setting out to find wildlife in nature, how the harder I search, the less I find. I have learned that when I relax, and breathe, and labor faithfully without expectation, when I prepare myself and allow nature to arrive on her own terms, she and her creatures arrive, beavers and bullfrogs, muskrats and turtles, herons and kingfishers, wild iris and rose. As with nature, so with natural relationships: I must relax, and breathe, and labor faithfully without expectation—I have to be prepared for the universe to arrive with her abundant blessings. For the present, my job is to get used to being alone, to sacrifice and to love alone, to contribute alone, to maintain spiritual standards and practices alone, to be healthy and fit alone, to cook and eat gourmet meals alone, and to forego the pleasures and pains and joys of intimate companionship. My opportunity is to learn the lessons of living from my particular life. Your opportunity right now is to sing with the choir, I thought, emerging from my reverie. To end the long church conference, the choir director led Mom and me and the choir in singing Be Still, My Soul, arranged by Mack Wilberg. The women sang with one clear voice, to which the men added another, moving together into a pleasant perfect eight-part harmony. A spirit of beauty washed over the ocean of faces. After the benediction, Dad walked slowly beside me toward the exit, his arm heavily upon mine. Stepping through the door, we saw that the snow had begun to fall, and remarked upon how beautiful it was, and how cold upon our bald heads.
(Pictured above, Utah’s Jordan River from my kayak.)
A Perfect Match
“Such a cute couple!” “They are so good together!” I have heard these and other phrases so often about couples, young and old. But what does it take to make a perfect match? “Opposites attract,” says the cliche, though I’m not sure I believe it. It is that we admire in our partners what we lack, or do we feel more comfortable with someone similar to us in personality and demeanor? In this poem I explore two sides of a relationship that differ and yet complement. I admit to tending more toward the second half of each couplet, though the poem is not (necessarily) autobiographical. What are your opinions about what makes the perfect match? Let me know by leaving your comment!
A PERFECT MATCH
falling off the wagon
nose to the grindstone
inclined toward cheerfulness
tending to be sad
go to hell
pedal to the floor
foot on the break
a perfect match
This poem, ostensibly about a dandelion flower gone to seed, is not about a dandelion flower at all. Rather, the poem explores the fragility of life and relationships. The slightest events can lead to enormous changes of circumstances. So take care to avoid unnecessary upsets. But when upsets inevitably appear, do your best to choose to go with the flow. After all, the scattered seeds will birth new beauty.
head I carry cupped
in one hand’s lee
against a zephyr’s whimsy:
perfect symmetry of sphere,
nucleus sprouting spokes
sporting inverted umbrella wisps.
stumble, or unfortunate exhalation
and loss, gracefully,
a floating meditation,
of sadness or complaint.
I Waited for You
Some of us wait silently to be loved, wait expectantly for our needs to be met. Others of us demand to be loved with stomping feet and a sharp tongue. The fortunate among us have learned to express their needs in ways that the listener understands, respects, and responds. We are all different in how we approach life and love, yet we all want and deserve love. My hope is that, rather than waiting for love or demanding love, we will learn to seek love in healthy, positive ways. Beyond this, my prayer is that we will first offer love and kindness to others, thus inviting love and kindness to come back to us.
This poem personalizes one seemingly ill-fated approach to finding love. What do you think the poem’s speaker could have done differently? Should the speaker have done anything differently? Was the speaker’s approach unreasonable? Consider posting your answer in the comment section below.
I WAITED FOR YOU
I waited for you:
Waited for you to come to me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like the crimson clouds after the tired sun drops behind the mountains.
When you came to me at last,
I had faded and gone.
I waited for you:
Waited for you to touch me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a dry, dusty leaf under a charcoal sky when the soothing rain won’t fall.
When you reached for me at last,
I had withered and gone.
I waited for you:
Waited for you to smile at me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a famished infant yearning to suck from her mother’s ripe, fragrant breast.
When you smiled at me at last,
I had drifted and gone.
Chapter 41: Of Marriage, Lies, and Promises
–Marriage is a long, clumsy dance, with frequent stepping on toes.–
I sat on the couch next to Angie while she held baby Hyrum over her shoulder. Feeling romantic, I put my arm around her neck and shoulders. My hand alighted upon a cold, wet spot of vomited breast-milk on the burp cloth draped over her shoulder. She laughed at how “romantic” it was. I joined in the chuckle after a momentary shiver of “ew.” Continue reading
Chapter 19: Porn
–The Sego Lily is the most delicate and elegant of chalices, a veritable grail.–
The state highway traverses the valley three-quarters of a mile away, perpendicular to Church Road as I approach Rabbit Lane. In the dark morning, a long line of white headlights travels north toward the Great Salt Lake, becoming red taillights as I pan from south to north.
Where do they all go? Continue reading