Sunday, June 16, 2013

Love in So Many Ways

Dad, me, Nannie, and my first Bloody Mary....
I'm in a weird mood today. It's Father's Day, and my father has been dead for over 10 years. Every year, my siblings immortalize Dad on Facebook by posting images of him and his art, recalling how talented and brilliant he was, how influential he was in our lives, and every passing year, I realize how very few pictures I have of Dad and me together, partly because so many family photos were lost when my parents' house burned down back in the 80s, but mostly because I've never been much of a shutterbug and have always detested posing for the camera. Strange as it may sound, seeing snapshots of him doesn't evoke the flood of emotions I imagine others might experience. Maybe it's because I don't have to remember my father. I'm perpetually aware of him sensually--in 3D--from his unmistakable scent and the porousness of his nose to the warmth of his ample, veiny hands and his sound-barrier breaking sneezes. I still know him.


Spartacus aka "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
I'm alone at the moment. Last night, we celebrated Spartacus's 52nd birthday, and right now, he's out playing eighteen holes of golf with an old friend he's known most of his life. It's strange to think about how, timewise, he and I have only just met. We've been alive together on this planet for half a century, but Fate didn't cross our paths until six years ago. Realistically speaking, that's probably a very good thing. Although he loves my sons as if they were his, he never wanted to have children of his own. My biological clock sounded when I was 26, the strongest and most overwhelming physiological urge I've ever known. Back then, we wouldn't have been right for one another. But, what does that really mean? 

We're constantly drifting into and out of each other's lives through gaps in the cytoplasm of time; all of us potentials, not rights or wrongs. I'm not knocking romance, only the expectations that accompany it. Love that's "meant to be" is already doomed. Love grows best unconditionally, yet that kind of love is reserved for children and pets. Why is that? "Till death do us part" is incompatible with the way things are in life. People and situations are changing all the time, and nothing in this world is permanent. To believe otherwise is delusional. From that perspective, marriage is wholly unnecessary, a legal relationship defined more by the shaky nature of commitment itself than lofty everlasting love. All those conditions and constraints leave little room for spontaneity; no wonder so many marriages fail! Just like life, love keeps moving and changing. We humans are social animals, hard-wired for possibility; otherwise, our self-conscious species probably wouldn't have survived. Love isn't a destination; it's a happy accident. There are billions of people in this world, so the romantic mathematics restricting us to one great love per lifetime don't exactly add up. Loneliness is often a choice. My 87 year old father-in-law, who's been widowed for almost two years, totally gets that. He's not betraying his thirty-five years of marriage by dating again, he's honoring them.

Rory, Billy, Jim, Yvie, & Nick, circa 2002
Earlier in the week, I received a very moving e-mail from my ex-husband, the father of my children. We'd been conversing on Facebook about a video I'd posted. In the video, an Episcopalian bishop gave the most cogent, realistic, and open-minded examination of religious faith and doctrine that I'd ever heard from a Christian believer. Backtracking just a bit, when I started medical school back in 1997, I went through a brief period of revisiting Catholicism. Our sons hated going to church, and to be honest, so did I. I haven't been back since. 

Jim's response to my post delineated the ways in which the organizers of early Christianity discarded any gospels depicting Christ as a man, and not a God, systematically wiping out Gnostic and pagan influences and incarcerating the souls of man. He observed that "a functional, meaningful religion in our world should have Gods and Goddesses functioning equally, in harmony together. Right now there are 7 billion of us Gods and Goddesses, most of whom do not KNOW it!" I think he might have wondered if I was re-exploring Catholic faith. He then shared with me a wonderfully original piece of prose he'd written on the Jungian concept of anima and animus, and how they related to Jung's archetype of the Self. In closing, he added:

"As this has been soaking in, I've fully realized that had I not had You in my life, with all our conflicts and the fact that we just weren't a good match for marriage, You have had a huge, beautiful and wonderful influence on my Anima development. Without having recognized the embodiment of my shadow projection, I could not Know my Self/Soul! I wanted to deeply honor You for all You have done and all the ways You have helped me in this journey through life. I wish You and Brad much joy and happiness in your journeys! And as I mentioned before, why ever bow down to God again, when You're already a Goddess!"

I was so touched by what he wrote that I read it again and again. Emotionally, I felt privileged. It's not often that ex-spouses exchange such heartfelt sentiments.  We weren't a successful match as marriage partners, but our relationship wasn't a failure; its course just changed over time. We've parented and lost parents together. We are who we are now because of our history, not in spite of it. I don't regret any of the time we spent together, because it's all led to this interceptual convergence where future memories are made. 

Nineteen and wondering about all the possibilities...
It's now 6:43 p.m. I've finally showered after an hour-long dog walk in humid, sweltering heat, and am enjoying a glass  (or two) of red wine. I'm overcome by life's messy beauty, the tenuous evanescence and bumpy texture of it all, how meaningful each forgettable moment really is, how much I love right now. When I was 19, I wondered what I'd be doing in 10 or 30 years. I had no idea I was born with the egg which later became my sons, or that one day, my right elbow would break so badly that, even with surgery, it would never be the same, or that I could love in so many ways: now my father, now the father of my children, now the man I call my husband. 

27 comments:

  1. That post is so good Kris, & you are lucky indeed to still have such a meaningful relationship with someone that shared such a big part of a past life. Someone who was very important @ that time.

    So sad about your house burning down in the 80s.

    I am a great believer that you pick up pieces of people as you travel through life; & in moving on when something is missing.

    Life is short with many mysteries,& I'm not surprised you dabbled with religion.

    A moving piece of writing(& honest as always.)
    Cheers, ic

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    1. Ian, I grew up Roman Catholic, but never really was religious. I liked all the icons, incense, and ringing bells. When I revisited the church in medical school, it was more because I thought it was something a "proper" doctor should do. Back then, I struggled, trying to reconcile my free spirit within such a professional world. I've since discovered that wasn't necessary at all. When our house burned down, we lost many photographs and almost all of my father's paintings. It was so tragic. I feel fortunate to have such a good relationship with my ex. The time we shared together is an important part of who I am today.

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  2. I am seldom so acutely aware of the meaning of life as I am when I am struggling to breathe in a Monday morning commuter train hurtling towards my workplace. And then I read a post that knocks the wind out of my windbags. "Gaps in the cytoplasm of time!" What an expression! Gives me a feeling as if the sand were trickling away through the myriad minuscule gaps in the hourglass of life.

    Neither religion nor relationship is a guarantee to love. Nor is love a guarantee to either religion or relationship. Love is like pearls on the seabed of life. You may appreciate it and want to own it. But it is the bond with the pearl rather than its beauty that will add a glimmer to your soul. Photographs, if they do not invoke emotions, are merely antiquities in your collection.

    Kris, with that ton of food for thought, I am set for my gruelling six day week.

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    1. Uma, a six day work week? I hope you reward yourself with some R&R when you return home in the evenings. Your thoughts on pearls as a metaphor for love are so poetic, and I agree with you that it's love's bond, not just it's outward beauty, that adds a glimmer to one's soul. I think my problem with photographs is that they are two dimensional, and I'm so much more of a sensual rememberer.

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  3. Forgive the typo in the first sentence -as when I am struggling to breathe....

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  4. Life is a beautiful wonderful mess. As I drift through this post I am grateful for the way you have captured it. I wonder what would happen if we expand unconditional love beyond pets and children. Perhaps a bigger beautiful mess :) And ps-that note your ex sent you is nothing short of amazing and assuredly deserved.

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    1. Isn't it weird, Gina, about the conditions that are set on unconditional love? Who says you can't love your partner unconditionally? We've had discussions about this before on BC, and many people believe unconditional love for a spouse isn't possible. I disagree. Love doesn't come with instructions or rules.

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  5. Kris, I love that picture with your first Bloody Mary, so cute! A beautiful photo when you were 19 looking far away and contemplating what will be. It’s so unfortunate that so many photos were lost in your house fire. Also, a nice photo with your ex, your sons and the dogs.

    I totally agreed with that Episcopalian bishop in the video you posted on FB. Interesting how you briefly revisited Catholicism; I left Catholicism at age 19 and never looked back (and I only stayed that long out of respect for my very Catholic father). Wonderful that you have such a good relationship with your ex. What Jim wrote to you was so moving, really beautiful, and you are a beautiful, loving person!

    Love does grow best unconditionally, I agree, and unfortunately it often seems to be more rare than common that it works that way. Situations change, people change, and yet sometimes we feel so stuck in one place due to societal pressure. Yes, little room left for spontaneity. “Just like life, love keeps moving and changing,” well said and very true. Love as “a happy accident,” I like that thought, and some people seem more “happy accident-prone” than others. I’ve often wondered why that is...luck or karma or...haven’t figured it out and probably never will.

    I think it’s very special that you can sense your father’s presence so vividly. I was close to my father too. Belated Happy Birthday to Spartacus, aka “most interesting man in the world”! He has great eyes, very intense blue. Think I’ll have a glass of red wine (or two) as well and let’s toast to life’s messy beauty! A lovely and very honest post, Kris.

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    1. Madilyn, my first Bloody Mary made me sick, sick, sick! What were my dad and Grandma thinking? re: the family photos, my sister salvaged a lot of them from the fire, but they're in her possession, and I really don't know which ones she has. I get batches of them from time to time, but I tend to just reuse the ones that are in my computer. Many of the ones I use have fire or water damage. In that fire, most of my father's paintings were lost...that, along with the death of our dog, was the biggest tragedy of all. My revisitation of Catholicism was spurred by my own insecurity about being a free spirit in the uptight world of medicine. I've since discovered that, even though I'm an off-the-beaten-path type with a tattoo on my left forearm, no one really cares. So, I sort of did that to myself. Jim's email was so moving; I read it over and over again. It was an affirmation that the time we spent together wasn't a waste. I felt like such a failure after our last divorce, and it feels good to know that wasn't the case. We just weren't able to function together in an intimate relationship. Love is such a strange thing. I feel like there's no way to really understand it, so it's best when enjoyed like fine red wine and dark chocolate: every morsel of it savored. I will convey your birthday wishes to the hubs!

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  7. Another amazing post, Kris, so full of intelligence, wonderful writing, and deep insight. What a fertile mind you have! You seem to do all it so effortlessly. I wonder if you realize how aphoristic your writing is, how quotable. Love, life, as I see it, is all uncertainty, all chance. You can't plan a successful marriage any more than you can plan a sunny day. Things happen the way they happen, and you accept the reality and go with it and move on.

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    1. Marty,
      Getting to know you through BC has been such an affirming experience for me. I spent so much of my early adulthood trying to quash my free spirit because it didn't seem congruent with society's expectations. I realize now that it was just my own insecurity, getting the best of me. Interacting with you, another free spirit, has been incredibly liberating. I appreciate your comment about my writing, as I often feel I am too verbose. I love what you said about marriage...that pretty much sums it up for me. I think the key to a successful marriage is probably forgetting that you are married.

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  8. I am so overwhelmed by this post I hardly know what to say. You have come such a long way. I'm so impressed with the spirit you have. I don't know where to start or end on your past entry, but this passage really got to me:

    "I was so touched by what he wrote that I read it again and again. Emotionally, I felt privileged. It's not often that ex-spouses exchange such heartfelt sentiments. We weren't a successful match as marriage partners, but our relationship wasn't a failure; its course just changed over time. We've parented and lost parents together. We are who we are now because of our history, not in spite of it. I don't regret any of the time we spent together, because it's all led to this interceptual convergence where future memories are made."

    If that's not beauty and a certain kind of love, I don't know what could be as magical or meaningful.

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    1. Charlene,
      One of my favorite songs as a teenager was Simon and Garfunkel's "Leaves That Are Green." In it, they sang, "Time hurries on, and the leaves that are green, turn to brown." As a fourteen year old, listening to this while lying in a sunbeam on a Sunday afternoon, the cycle of live and love made perfect sense. I got sidetracked for a few years, but the awareness that life and love are constantly moving and changing now enhances my life in ways I never thought imaginable. It's a beautiful mess, and I wouldn't trade a single minute of it.

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  9. Excellent post Kris,

    I went through all the thoughts of my father, ex wife, mother and son as I read it. It is amazing the passage of time on our relationships, and all the things that are left behind once they are gone. What an emotional journey.

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    1. It is amazing, isn't it? So strange to think about how people you don't know yet, people who will become very important to you, are walking around on Earth the same time as you are, only you don't know it yet.

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  10. Kris, I absolutely love the way you write! Always draws me in and keeps me there. Thank you, what a wonderful read before I turn off the light for the evening. My Dad is an Episcopalian bishop....did you know that? :) I think my favorite part of the post is your candid outpouring of love for Spartacus. Always makes me smile. Love finds us. I can only hope I will be so lucky :) Long story.....

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    1. Thanks, Michelle, so glad you enjoyed what I wrote. That is an interesting coincidence about your father being an Episcopalian bishop. I thought the bishop in the video was one very sharp and perceptive man. Yes, love finds us, usually when we least expect it. That was definitely the case for me. I think you're lucky, too.

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  11. Life is twisted in many ways. We tend to look backwards to see where we have been and almost trip as we move forward. You have lived you life, you have remembered well, now you get to enjoy the unknown we call the future. One day all of this might become as clear as mud and I bet you continue to press on.

    Great Post Kris!

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    1. Thanks, Steven. I like your observation about how looking backwards can sometimes trip us as we move forward. So true. Best to leave the past behind.

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  12. A beautiful post Kris. Love flows in your daily life. I like how casually you put it. How your ex husband thought of your relationship is so moving! It must made you felt good.
    After our discussion in BC, I know, those past time was not really "failed", or "wasted". I "changed", "metamorphosed". Life moves on, what happened would not be erased.

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    1. Yes, Yun Yi, that email from my ex was very special; it really meant a lot to me. Metamorphosis is a good analogy for what happens in certain relationships. You realize that you've outgrown them in some way, that they're not satisfying or positive, and you move on. So often, I think our society equates that kind of change with failure. Maybe it's because, in general, our society does not accept or appreciate life's impermanence.

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  13. t must be a lovely comfortable feeling to still feel that presence of someone you loved very dearly around you. And it must be a joy to know that he was a brilliant dad who left you all with many fond memories.

    It's always a good thing when you can get on well with an ex-partner especially when there are children involved. Sometimes it can take years to get to the point of having decent friendly conversations but it's worth the try for everyones benefit. No one really enjoys all the conflict and drama associated with bad breakdowns.

    Such a touching letter your ex-husband emailed you. Although your relationship at the time didn't work out, you both learned, experienced many things about yourself and each other during those times. And sometimes you later can clearly see what you have lost (not in a negative way but in a positive light) but time has moved on for everyone. As for a 'failed' marriage. That really depends on how one views failure or what one would call a 'successful' marriage. My 'ex' partner is today one of my most trusted friends but I wouldn't say we failed as a dating couple (didn't marry) We just wasn't meant to stay together otherwise we would have killed one another, so that was a success on both parts :) if you know what I mean.

    Happy belated 52nd Birthday to Spartacus, I know nothing of golf but hope he won the game And Happy Fathers Day to both Spartacus and your ex husband, because I'm sure they have both played great parts in your sons life. Brilliant Post Helena.

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    1. RPD, my dad's presence is a strange, but comforting feeling, the likes of which I've never experienced before. As for bad breakdowns, they are so toxic to everyone involved, especially the children. When I was divorced, I dated a guy who'd split from his ex. Their divorce wasn't final, and they were using their two year old daughter as a pawn. Ugh! I had no desire to be a part of that. I think it's wonderful that you and your ex have maintained such a trusting and close relationship. This is why romantic love seems superficial, compared with other kinds of love two people can share together. Romance doesn't always mean true intimacy. I will convey your birthday greetings to Spartacus. Yes, my boys have been very lucky to have had such amazing men in their lives.

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  14. I always love those 'waxing philosophical' moments where the entire world and all the craziness within, seems easily understood, yet the slipping through the fingers is something amazing to watch in itself.

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  15. Such a magnificent post. It conjures thoughts of my own life and how fortunate I am to have a man, who, I truly feel loves me unconditionally. And I, too, love him unconditionally. We will be married 26 years this year and he is my very best friend. Thank you for reminding me of such treasures we are given in life.

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