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In This Together

This is one of many wonderful videos of flash mobs. I love watching them. I think part of the appeal is the strong sense of community. They are absolutely in this together. There is a collective voice and motion that carries the group and crescendos the magic. 

The conference this February in Bryn Athyn is called In This Together. My heart tells me that one of the acids that breaks down marriage is isolation. We lose sight of the people who traveled across town or the country to dance at our wedding, forget the connection we once felt to the partner whose hand we could not grip tightly enough. The walls of loneliness or despair are erected around us like masonry, blocking the presence of angels and friends.
If we can peer around and see the other folks singing and dancing, albeit sometimes limping, in this flash mob called Marriage, we could remember the steps and find our rhythm again. When our own exuberance wanes, we might borrow from the people near us whose supply has not dwindled. 
I have seen it happen. When I arrive at a marriage group meeting, or a conference, or a mentoring rendezvous, often there is a person whose feet dragged through the door. But after awhile the surge of people with enthusiasm to spare seeps into them too.
I have a clutch of friends who sometimes lure me out the door for a walk. Don't laugh, but I actually need support to keep going. I would rather enjoy the view from a car. But when my wind begins to ebb, and the person I am strolling with keeps moving her feet, it is somehow enough to keep mine swinging too. We are in this together. 
If there is ever a time when your relationship begins to lag, there are people including me who are delighted to walk with you. 
We are in this together. 

For the Kids

The other day I watched a show about bad guys. Not dastardly bad guys, exactly, but the kind that swindle on even days and con on the odd ones. 
But in this particular episode there was one word that made those bad guys do a one eighty, straightening their crooked ways faster than a chiropractor. 
The Russian mobster, the seasoned thief and the feisty redhead thirsty for revenge all softened at the word "kids". Concern for children united them against the Badder than Bad Guy who was using little kids to make dirty money. 
There is a sweet spot in most human hearts when it comes to the most fragile members of our species. We collectively yearn to keep them safe. Protecting young ones is the motivation for grown ups to pass certain legislation, install fences, and design bicycle helmets. We are hardwired to believe that little kids deserve a fair shake. 
Yet the erosion of that universal desire cannot be extracted from the aftermath of divorce. Children suffer when marriages die. It is not from ill intent, or apathy. But the ones with the quietest voices get lost in the cross fire. 
One book that makes me cry is The Switching Hour- Kids of Divorce Say Good-Bye Again. The author reached across the political trenches to listen to what it feels like for four year olds to have toothbrushes in two bathrooms, undies in multiple dressers. They schlep bags from mom's house to dad's on Wednesdays or alternate weekends and try to remember where their fuzzy slippers are. It is another layer of stress for toddlers to cleave their allegiance, and try to patch their hearts together when a family divides. They lose things along the way, in the repetitive shuffle that is coparenting.
Make your marriage resilient. Do it for the kids. 

Birthday Party

The other night I went to a birthday party for a dear friend. Her husband orchestrated it with incredible tenderness. He asked the members of her puppeteer troop to create a show about his wife's life story, including her childhood struggles in school, her love for singing and dancing, and her deep love for little children. He handed out tissues ahead of time. That was a good idea.
He also recruited a six person band to accompany the show, which did its part to untie our heart strings. The innocence of the puppet children dressed in bright silk, the sweetness of the plot, and the honeyed voices all
worked together to offer a testimony to the woman he has shared a life with for twenty five years.
I have passed billboards that profess to offer the ultimate gift for a woman. Diamonds carry a hefty sticker price, and make a big splash. Tickets to a Broadway show can make a wife squeal in delight, especially if there is a promise of dinner beforehand. 
But the catch is that anyone could buy a diamond in a matter of minutes, and toss it in a glitzy bag with a bow. It requires no more intimate knowledge of the receiver than that she has a spare finger or bare neck. 
To give what this man did..... takes shared history. It cannot be bought with any currency save an ardent desire to know his wife's dreams, and struggles. As she watched, and wept, and heard the show about her own heart, she felt the inestimable gift of being understood and cherished.

Maybe It Is Enough

I asked a simple question on Facebook.
Does a little bit of care make a difference when the pain is so big?
Within a few minutes there was a string of responses, many with exclamation points, assuring me that it does. Some people told stories from their own lives and how care carried them. I wrote it out of the overwhelm all around me.... disease, joblessness, death, divorce. I was surprised at the strength of the answers. 
I can recall small overtures in my own life that still warm me. One was in 1989. I lay in the hospital in Flagstaff, feeling incredibly adrift after an emergency appendectomy. My bishop called me. How on earth did he find the number? I myself did not know the number, or the name of the hospital for that matter, unless it was something obvious like Flagstaff General Hospital. He did not say anything particularly eloquent, just that he was thinking of me and hoped I recovered soon. Click. Let me hasten to mention that this man had fourteen children himself, and no doubt had other things to snag his attention. But he managed to figure out the number and the extension, and dialed it with a rotating dial, which those of you who are over twenty understand took more effort than speaking into Google Search. 
How is it possible that two minutes of a person's life can nourish you for twenty two years without being depleted? 
Then there was the card I got from the family I lived with when they had their fourth baby.
"To the Pied Piper of Bullfrog Lane." I can still see the hurried script of the young father of four children under eight. I had taken the job after a messy withdrawal from college, which was the fall out of my mother's forced entrance into a mental hospital. It was scary visiting her, walking through the perpetually locked doors, suddenly being outnumbered by people who had done enough damage to themselves or others to be sentenced to this. My mother was here. What did that mean about her, or about us? Playing with children was healing for me. Being appreciated for it was added balm. 
Another was the nurse when Benjamin was a patient at Cedar Sinai. She watched my mounting anxiety for a week of tests, and noticed that I had forgotten how to shower. I felt strapped to Benjamin's tiny side, and it never crossed my mind to leave it long enough to get wet. She shepherded me to the bathroom, offering a white towel, and said she would stay with my baby. I do not recall her name, but her gesture of compassion will never lose its power. 
You are present for some of the most poignant and vulnerable moments in the lives of people you love. You cannot retract the diagnosis, or rebuild the economy. But you can make an indelible difference. 
As one man said to his wife, "Thanks for sticking with me through thin."

Half Real

There is an amazing book, A Stroke of Insight, by a woman who descibed her experience of having a stroke. Parts of Jill's brain were starved for blood because of a clot the size of a golf ball.


Unfortunately Jill had booked a lecture about neuroanatomy before she lost her abilities, and she wanted to go ahead with the presentation. In the months leading up to the conference, she gradually relearned how to walk, feed herself and speak. She found a way to cover the third of her head that had been shaved, and began to feel brave enough to go out in public. But as for the content of her talk.... it was gone.
Fortunately Jill had a video recording of the same speech, given in another state back when she actually knew stuff. She began a training regime of watching herself: her mannerisms, the fluctuation in her voice, and the words themselves which she did not understand. After hundreds of hours, she could recreate the entire performance, and the audience was unaware of the fact that Jill had suffered a stroke and this was an act. She was speaking from her past, hoping that it would again become her future. 
Occasionally we forget the feelings that we used to know by heart. I read about a couple that went to counseling. The husband insisted that he never loved his wife. Ever. She dug up the boxes of love letters he had written her decades before, which dripped with affection. She showed these to him in the presence of the counselor, but he flatly refused to believe what they said, even though they were penned in his own handwriting.
Sometimes we cannot remember a feeling, or a body of information, and are duped by the illusion that it will never return. Most of us have photographs of ourselves at our own wedding, and other times of abundant love. We can watch those images, as a kind of script. We used to feel that way, and perhaps hold a flickering hope that the feelings can return, or be relearned. We can watch old movies of ourselves, and see how easily we laughed and smiled at each other. Perhaps those scripts can be a bridge from our own history, through the gorge of now, to tomorrow. 
A friend of mine says we need to "fake it til you make it". Swedenborg coined the term simulations, to describe the pretense that can keep a marriage afloat until real affection wakes up. 
Some days my actions are the genuine article. I make dinner from a love of my family. Other days it is only a shadow of the real thing. The food is still edible, but my heart is not in it. I am operating on auto pilot, remembering the repetition of hundreds of days when I wanted to stir the pasta.
Perhaps I am experiencing a kind of love clot. The feelings I used to have in abundance are not flowing easily, and parts of me begin to atrophy. But a story like Jill's tells me that not only can those parts of me return, my gratitude for them expands to fill the vacuum.