It's tough to put my fingers back on this keyboard. One week away from technology has made the plastic, clicking keys foreign to me. I'll get over it. But for the moment, my mind and heart are still back on a sandy, pebbly beach in the Grecian archipelago.
Jonathan and I traveled to the little island of Kalymnos for a week of off-the-grid relaxation, some rock climbing, and a chance to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary in a new country. The vacation was successful on all counts. We came back with sunburns, a few natural sponges (a Kalymnian specialty), and easy hearts. I plan to blog more about the trip itself soon. But for now, I wanted to share something I read while lying on one of those shallow, sunny beaches next to the man I love.
Earlier this summer, a friend recommended Terry Tempest Williams's memoir When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice . I downloaded a copy to my Kindle just before we boarded the plane, knowing very little about the subject matter. As it turns out, When Women Were Birds is a very unique kind of memoir. In reading it, I felt like an oceanographer, learning and cataloging the layers of the sea on a deep, deep dive... surprises at each new fathom. It deals in relationships, certainly, but many of these relationships are unconventional, long-ignored, and controversial: parishioner to Church (big C, the author is a Mormon), human to nature (the author has been an environmentalist since the early days when such a term was truly unpopular), a poet to truth , an activist to her cause .
But as Jonathan and I celebrated our own anniversary, it was what Williams wrote about marriage, her own having lasted more than forty years at the time of the book's publication, that struck me as most relevant and authentic:
A marriage is among the most private of landscapes. It is also the most demanding if both partners are to maintain their individuality and equipoise. How do you contain within a domestic arrangement a howling respect for the wild in each other?
Rilke provided us with a map: "Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." I need my solitude. Brooke needs his freedom. When we come together, we meet whole.
But sometimes the distances become to great, and words don't help in the articulation of our souls when we want to share where we've been and who we have become.
I have never been as lonely as I have been in my marriage. I have also never been more seen or more protected. Love has little to do with it. Marriage is more sandstone than granite, similar to the terrain of southern Utah: the geography of mountains, canyons, and plateaus. The weathering creates the redrock windows and bridges. Beauty is transformed over time, and not without destruction.
Landscape is dynamic. So is marriage. Brooke and I have changed, and changed each other. What has been washed and eroded away is as important as what remains.
What remains for Brooke and me is conversation, our shared love of ideas. We have never stopped loving all things wild and unruly including each other. We raised each other, grew up together. And as a couple, we have given birth to each other, both as lovers and refugees in a culture foreign to our true nature. The feral fury of our twenties is such a different fire in our fifties. Deeper, fuller, the fire fanned now is just as intense and surprising because of the spaces we honor between us that hold a history. Brooke remains a mystery.
Yes, our landscape is constantly changing. We've no idea what it will look like in 40 years; it is merely faith that makes us believe we'll still be standing together in those distant days. Meanwhile, we can only learn from the shallow, snaking grooves in the ground around us now, the ones that have appeared in the last 8 years based on our moves and moods. For instance:
- 8 years
- 50,759 digital photos
- 2 cats
- 2,922 nights (First on a beat-up, blue futon, then on the softest European Sleepworks' mattress in the world.)
- 2 rental houses and 1 rooftop flat
- 17 countries on 3 continents
- 1 enormous, black, leather couch
- 10 weeks of Norwegian language lessons
- 1 nephew
- 7 full bookcases
- 398 blog posts
- 3 cars, then 0 cars
- 4 climbing harnesses
- countless kisses
- countless fights
- countless boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese
- 1 (full) storage unit in Livermore, California
I wonder which will become the fins, the arches, the pillars, the rockfalls, the plateaus, the canyons. But I don't wonder how beautiful the culmination will ultimately be.