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Two Arms

I fell on a slippery slope at a church camp and whacked my poor old bod. The bruise on my thigh was as black as coffee, and in the words of Benjamin looked "scary." But the more pressing concern was the damage to my left forearm. I do not score highly in the intelligence Gardner describes as bodily-kinesthetic but I was certain I should not move it. The improvised sling helped insure that, and I spent the next few days learning to live with one arm. 

What struck me first was the people around me who so casually maneuvered two hands. They lifted, grabbed, hugged, clapped, ate, played guitar and carried things easily. The cooperation of two limbs had never seemed so miraculous to me as it did now. The once simple task of holding a plate and filling it with food now took serious planning. Sweeping at chore time was sloppy. Playing for worship was impossible. I tugged out a foot of floss and soon realized I didn't have the strength to keep it taut.
Then I gradually started to figure out ways to still help in the kitchen, and dress. It took attention but I didn't want to simply give up. My right arm did double duty, and I learned how to hold gently with my left hand without actually putting pressure on the arm. 
The cooperation of two limbs reminds me of marriage. Working in unison while getting dinner on the table, or paying the bills makes it all much easier. But I know that in our relationship things are often unevenly distributed. John's paycheck is three times what mine is. I spent more time holding babies. I can feel resentful of that inequity, or I can learn to work with it. There have been times when I was incapacitated with asthma, and John took up the slack. Other years he traveled overseas for weeks at a time and I carried the brunt of childcare. What I have finally remembered to remember is that if I begin to feel self righteous about my competence, I can expect to be leaning on him in about ten minutes. 
The two eyes make one sight, the two ears one hearing, the two nostrils one smell, the two lips one speech, the two hands one labor, the two feet one walking, the two hemispheres of the brain one dwelling place of the mind, the two chambers of the heart one life of the body by means of the blood, the two lobes of the lungs one breath. But the masculine and feminine when united in love truly conjugial make one life completely human.
  Emanuel Swedenborg, Conjugial Love 316 



Long for the Sea

Once there was a man who wanted to find worthy sailors for an expedition. He recruited strong people and began to teach them skills like knot tying, and navigation. They learned the tasks adequately. Yet he wanted workers who were dedicated. He tightened the regime of training, using threats and increased promises of pay. They could all perform the motions, yet something was missing. He could not articulate it, much less remedy the problem.
Still the captain had to set sail, so he boarded the crew and they embarked on the frothy seas. In calm weather, things went well enough. The men on deck took their turns, arriving at the beginning of their watch, and leaving when it was over. But when the first storm came, they became disoriented. Some appeared late for their shifts, or begged to be released to the lower deck. Fear and anxiety made them forget their routines, and he found himself dragging them to their posts, only to have them prove near useless against the gyrating water.
It was a fierce night, raging on for hours. When the ocean finally calmed, the captain took stock. Half a dozen of the crew had been washed over board, several more begged him to turn around. He felt enraged, and hopeless. 
When they landed again, he begrudgingly paid the crew, and vowed to find another way to fill his ship. As he walked along the shore, he noticed a young man, scarcely twenty, who sat gazing at the horizon. He sat down next to him.
"What are you looking at?" he asked.
"The sea. I have longed to sail across it since I was a little boy," said the young man.
"Know much about sailing?" the captain inquired.
"Oh yes! I have read Moby Dick, and The Old Man and the Sea until I know passages by heart."
The man had meant actual knowledge, but he began to wonder. Perhaps he had been looking in the wrong place all along. This young man ached to be out on the waves, feeling the salt in his face. He could learn to sail.
For the next few months the captain found men and women whose hearts already belonged on the ocean. In place of experience they dreamed of what it would be like. Each person eagerly learned the skills, making mistakes to be sure, but ever willing to try again. 
When the crew set sail, everything felt different. Sailors arrived early for their shifts, staying long after they were over. They watched the captain closely, trying to mimic his deftness with ropes and sails. Instead of aching to be back on land, they savored the beauty of the open water, the birds and fish that danced around them.
The night of the first storm, everyone was perched to work. Men who had only read about the sea and sky trading places threw themselves into staying afloat. They rose to higher competence than the captain had ever witnessed in such novices. The water raged all night, and not a man aboard slept a wink.
But in the morning, the forgiving sun peeked over the shimmering blue sea to warm them. The crew was drenched and exhausted, yet strangely revived. They had weathered their first tempest. They were sailors. 
Marriage skills can be learned. You can practice communication tools until they are as routine as jumping jacks. You can parrot back the differences between men and women like you do the multiplication tables. 
But no one can teach you to love marriage. That comes from deep within, from years of longing for something God given, and imagining what waits across the threshold. 



Touch Me

I was very moved by a TED talk about human touch. The context was the doctor-patient relationship, and the potential for building trust through the laying of hands on another person's body.
The speaker, who received a standing ovation, described the ritual of examination and how it is being replaced by a vast array of technological wizardry. Doctors are more likely to order a CAT scan than to place their fingers on a patient's body. He came to this disturbing realization when he spoke with a patient who had changed doctors not based on the hospital atrium, or the cutting edge equipment, but because she wanted touch.
As chance would have it, I watched this minutes after I missed an opportunity to touch my husband. I was leaving our office just as he was returning, and by a turn of the corner, I came face to face with him when I had almost passed him unseen. We spoke about mundane things, who drives which kid where, and then I left. As I drove off I felt a lack on my lips. I could have kissed him. I should have kissed him. 
Especially in the wake of my neighbor's abrupt death, I wish I had done something far more important than clarify the Odhner Shuttle Schedule. I wish I had hugged him. 
I hear of couples for whom touch has fallen off the radar. This grieves me. And yet, I could throw my arms around my own husband a little more often. He would not mind.
I believe that babies need skin to skin contact in order to grow. Why would it be any different for marriage?





I am sad.

There are many legitimate reasons why, to collect like a strategy for an upcoming debate: a recent death, a friend out of work, the last tantrum, another divorce, the inevitable decay in the yard. But that does not protect me from the ache. Sad is still sad, even if you know the reasons.
But I am also noticing pain that has no name. 

The story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel captures the exhaustion that weighs all around me like a London fog. All night is practically forever when your baby is sobbing or insomnia props your eyes open like a broken door in the wind. Then Jacob voices the question pounding to escape my lips. 
"What is your name??"
Jacob wants to know. He begs to know. He believes he must know.
But the angel refuses his request.
There have been anonymous opponents that have thrown me off balance. My mother never came when I had a baby. Perhaps that is why I kept having them, holding out that she would arrive to mother me. She went when my sisters gave birth, and stayed for weeks. I cursed the reasons I could not hear, flailing to knock them down in the darkness. But my aim is shaky in the shadows. 
I read about a couple whose daughter was abducted. Their life roiled with suffering and searching. They prayed their guts out, for an answer from God about what had become of their child. Then came the whispered reply.
"Do you trust that I am taking care of her, even if you never find out what happened?"
My son was diagnosed with autism when he was four. Finally the disconnect had a name. It gave us bearings, and company. No cure, mind you, but words to say when people's eyebrows jacked up. 
There are people who sometimes wonder if their spouse is behind a wall. Words have trouble penetrating the glass, or is it ice? They speak, but do not feel heard. They reach but cannot find warmth. Perhaps they badly want a name to explain what they cannot fathom. 

"I want to be close, and we are not. That means someone is wrong or bad."
Maybe there is no name that can be formed by syllables. Perhaps the reason, if you can call it that, is more of an invitation. If my mother had come when Lukas was born, I would have long ago stopped asking if she would. I would have dismissed the whole ordeal and moved on. But because she didn't or couldn't or wouldn't.... I still hover at wondering. 
When your relationship is not comfortable, you keep moving, and shifting, trying to make it work. 
Maybe, just maybe, there is something of value to be found in suspense. 





Behind the Curtain

When you go to the theater, you do not see everything. 
There is this handy velvet curtain to keep your eyes away from the scurrying actors and shoved sets, the flashing costume changes and blatant breaches of the illusion. 
On occasion I go to a dress rehearsal, because the director wants a small audience for the actors to practice on before opening night. Then I can expect to see imperfect entrances, and dropped lines. The last time I did it a whole plate of brownies went flying, and a mike fell off its perch on the lady's collar. But this was not as much a travesty as good information about how to shine up the show. 
Imagine if a student majoring in theater spent four years watching performances. Suppose he or she was never privy to the activity back stage. There is certainly value in seeing things go well, but if we are blind to how those actors and sets got there, we would be unprepared to go out and get a job on Broadway. Even if the plays you are one day hired to produce are not the exact ones you worked on as an undergrad, you learn how the process works. People can figure it out, given a chance to observe. 
The other day I was visiting with a dear couple. Mid conversation their daughter came barreling in, begging for the keys to her father's car.
"My car doesn't work, dad! It won't start and I am late for work!!!" she pleaded. 
I assumed he would hand them over, but he did not.
"What happens when you try to start it," he calmly asked. He did not seem as anxious as she wanted him to be. He knew that her job was one mile away and had a flexible start time. 
"It's old, dad, I don't know," she seemed irritated. 
"My car is full of gas, and I think you want my gas as much as my car," he suggested. The two of them went outside, and I saw him holding a red gas can. It turns out she was on empty, and had kind of forgotten that until now. 
My friend mentioned that good boundaries are hard for this child, and they are learning how to love her without getting trampled. I am not sure if the daughter learned what they wanted her to, but I got a quick peek behind the curtain of family life. I will not forget that solving the immediate emergency may not always be the wisest course of action. Probably that exact scene will not show up in my house, but given a chance to observe good parenting, I might figure it out.