I read recently that the woman was so hateful that you could light a cigarette from her glare. There was just some deep hurt or plain orneriness about her that made her a Fukushima Daiichi that refused to cool off. When looking at the tabloid in the supermarket rack, I noticed that her mop of big hair needed some untangling and definitely a good scrub. She sat there showing a tattoo on her fleshy forearm bearing witness to whatever meaning was hidden beneath her skin’s impression of a tractor trailer. And she sure looked pissed.
She apparently was nursing a grudge against the guy on stage. As I scanned the narrative, there had apparently been a rolling boil of a drama play out in some back alley den of scoundrels. It had all started when the guitarist suddenly asked between numbers, “How many of you been in prison?” He was looking directly at her. Some people cheered as she got up.
Never finished the rest of the story so I don’t know for sure how the little club drama concluded. One thing for sure, though, I would bet there had been several spoons at work stirring that cauldron. The idea of long-handled spoons came to mind since some of the players probably didn’t want to get too close for fear of hot spillover. Even a drunk would know that distance was needed from the two of them rolling around on the floor like cartoon characters scratching and clawing till someone got seriously hurt. Someone was going to jail, too, maybe for a long time depending on how close to the bone they found the hatred.
This end-of-the-trail romance got me thinking of friends whose marriages had also come to an end, perhaps not in such a dramatic way but still over. Although marriage counselors abound and there’s no dearth of books that are full of advice on how to keep the spark burning, men and women still come together for all the wrong reasons or “things happen” that don’t allow them to continue on.
One thing for sure is that all the breakups usually raise the question of how exactly do you make love stay? This old stumper got me thinking about Tom Robbins, the wild man of the written word who said in Still Life With Woodpecker:
“When two people meet and fall in love, there’s a sudden rush of magic. Magic is just naturally present then. We tend to feed on that gratuitous magic without striving to make any more. One day we wake up and find that the magic is gone. We hustle to get it back, but by then it’s usually too late, we’ve used it up. What we have to do is work like hell at making additional magic right from the start. It’s hard work, but if we can remember to do it, we greatly improve our chances of making love stay.”
Mr. Tom obviously is on to something, but he’s a tad short in the details. Here’s what I think might work: A commitment to Growth. And here are some details.
First, here are some teachers by negative example. I’ve known some couples who take great pride in their long marriages. Yet when you observe them and listen to their chatter, you might think they’re principal players in a marriage manual illustrating what is meant by the description “gruesome twosome.” Nothing they have to say to one another is anything but vinegar to the tongue. Other couples seem to have settled in for what Thoreau saw as “lives of quiet desperation.” They don’t see any good alternatives, make their compromises, and plod on. Others just are shits and stand no chance of success.
Now for the good examples, especially those of long-term lovers who continue to hold hands in public and smile as they actually listen to one another, still crazy after all these years.
My own theory is that the idea of growth is the key that opens the door to that “still crazy” freshness and a sense that all is still available if you just take the opportunity to seek it. Again, I snatch answers from my own life and from what I have read. One clue comes from the nineteenth century writer and theologian John Newman, later to be named a Cardinal, who adopted as his life motto the following statement from the English preacher Thomas Scott:
“Growth is the only evidence of life.”
I know in my case that I have been blessed with two special women who worked hard to scrub the barnacles from my hull. Both of them transformed me from a lump of clay into something almost civilized and who cleans up pretty well for a Saturday night on the town. I see my journey as one of growth and transformation, neither of which has been exactly smooth or consistent. It’s the journey, though, that holds the clue for keeping love from doing a disappearing act. Perhaps we also have to thank the gods of good fortune. Many a lad who’s thought he’s doing all the right things has still fallen into a trap and popped out of the wrong chute into free fall. All I know for certain, though, is that I could not have made it this far by myself. Thus, I equate making love stay with being open to growth.
When it’s all said and done, let’s hope none of us ends up on the bar room floor like our tabloid friends punching, biting or piercing the one we once professed to love. So as I wonder how do you make love stay, I like to think it’s more than just an abstract construction. I am not hesitant to say that I try at every opportunity to honor my dear one’s feelings and let her know without doubt that I respect and support her. We have not become who we are solely by our own initiative and self-reliance. We have become better beings by opening ourselves to the power of the other who has joined us in our mutual search for the right direction. With any luck and a lot of effort, we will end up OK and worthy of the precious oils used to paint an honest portrait of ourselves.
When we heed and hear our better angels, there will be two sets of ears listening, if love is present. That special person standing beside us is our inner strength, the nurturing mind that is open and curious, the imagination that opens us to the new, the shoulder that provides rest and comfort, the quiet that allows us to understand the end and all the way stations along the path. By joining two hands with love we can learn to temper our ambition, distinguish what is permanent from what is fleeting, and be prepared to accept the ineluctable without tears.
In trying to understand the meaning of growth and what it brings to love, I am comfortable with where I’ve ended up. To me, one of the best definitions of what happens when you intermingle growth and love is captured in the words of the English writer G.K. Chesterton, who was known to make his points by turning popular sayings, proverbs, and allegories inside out:
“The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has
utterly obscured the idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us.”
To my ears, he’s said it all. Love will stay, not leave, according to Robbins and I suspect Chesterton and Newman,
”if it’s not in flux between illusion and substance, between memory and wish, between contentment and need.”
Just don’t barter away your love for the promise of something silly. Simply rely on grace and wit and continue to ride the twinkle of its morning star and you’ll be fine.