Crafting Gentleness

Friday, July 13, 2007

Wedding thoughts

No, not mine. Another sister is getting married this coming Monday.

I proposed to someone once. It was a really big moment for me. I'd had a long chat with my Dad about it. I saved up for the ring, looked for a long time before I found the one I wanted, or rather the one I thought that she might want; not too ostentatious but simple, delicate, tasteful, slim like her, sparkly like her. I approached the moment thoughtfully, searched my heart to work out if I was confident about what I was doing. I was terrified, but confident that we loved each other.

I considered whether I could imagine myself waking up with that person every day of my life, and found myself excited by that very prospect. Every day, waking up to the unfolding wonder of another person's daily renewed encounter with their world with me in it. Every day another chance to learn to live in respect, another chance to let the extraordinary magnitude of that particular person's reality take my breath away with the most ordinary of glances, the most mundane of movements, the most amazing presence of just being there. The prospect that every day there would be that particular someone close by who would listen to me and I to her. The prospect that there would be someone close to hand who would have my best interests at heart, who would help me be the person that they could see I could be, even when I lost faith in myself, as I sometimes do. The prospect that I could share my life with someone I almost never needed to explain myself to, someone who could see me in all my meness. The prospect that every day there would be someone nearby with whom the notion of raising a family was an amazing, exciting possibility. I believed I had found someone whose baseline was gentler than mine, someone who I believed would default to loving, caring, and nurturing whenever crankiness moved on, whenever clouds would pass, lightning cease, and the rain stop falling. Far from an ideal, the relationship was extraordinarily ordinary for me - real, possible, already happening.

The offering of one's whole self lovingly, the invitation to someone that they walk with you in joy and sorrow, contentment and anxiety, is something that you never forget, and something that I myself can carry with me as a testament to the possibilities of loving. To invite oneself to the gentleness of a truly loving reality is a truly wondrous and truly scary thing to do. To invite another? I don't know what it felt like from her side, but I can't allow myself to regret asking.

It was a long time ago, but looking back on that moment I know that there can indeed be times when I can work out with clarity what's important to me in my life and proceed into the unknown with the courage that comes with knowing, whatever happens, that everything is going to be okay. Even if the okay that everything is may not be quite as I expected, and may be quite a while in making itself known.

It wasn't a proposal of marriage. I am well aware of the weight that comes with the idea of marriage, the distant (and sometimes not so distant) echoes of property and patriarchal authority, the state- and church-sanctioned positioning. I didn't want her to marry me. I wanted the person in question to accept an invitation to walk with me, to walk with me as my family and I as hers. That was as open an invitation as I could offer. I kept it short, but I said what I wanted to say.

I never got an answer, as it happens. At least, not a verbal one. What became clear very quickly was that, whatever about the care I took in framing it as an unmarriage proposal, a carefully selected engagement ring is a powerful force that can unleash a maelstrom of contradictions, a damburst of dreams and nightmares, an audit of conversations spoken and unspoken. Nothing says 'Marriage and everything that goes with it' more than an engagement ring. I wouldn't have wanted it so, but I couldn't do anything about it once the box was opened.

I'm not a terribly practical man, I'm more than a little impulsive. But being honest with someone about where my heart is at is something I will never regret. I have a good friend who suggests that it's wise not to tell someone you love them unless they tell you first. I can appreciate the thought. It can be a scary line to throw at someone these days. But life's too short to clamp your heart shut when all you want to do is celebrate the person you love. And anyway, if I say 'I love you' to someone it shouldn't come as much of a surprise by the time I get around to saying it! I had hoped as much with the proposal, but it didn't turn out that way.

The lack of definite response challenged me to work out for myself the difference between plans and hopes. I had hopes that I thought we had both woven in encounter with each other, in exploration of each other, in loving each other. They weren't plans or prescriptions. I didn't even think they were hopes of my own devising. I thought they were merely invitations that we had quietly offered to each other along the way, threads that I thought we had worked at enough, woven enough to carry the weight of love, faith, trust, and a lifetime of working it out and working it through as you go along. Apparently she didn't agree. It happens.

Hopes are wonderful things when they whisper quietly and keep close to the ground. Maybe it's difficult for an engagement ring to whisper? Maybe it's difficult for a proposal of marriage to be gentle? I really don't know any more. I do believe that we can live invitations for each other, as friends and lovers, to become less fearful people, and I do believe that a committed partnership can (but in certain cases may not) offer safe places for us to learn ever more immediate and helpful ways to live with our fears, to dissolve our fears, and to face ourselves.

I worked hard at that particular relationship after the proposal, but whether I liked it or not the proposal had changed everything, and I couldn't take it back. Time eventually spoke loud enough for both of us. As the song says, "Time was talking/Guess I just wasn't listening/No surprise, if you know me well" ("The Kid", Buddy Mondlock). It has been a few years now since I proposed. We are no longer in contact, and I imagine we are both living our lives the best that we know how.

I've been thinking recently about what loving someone means, particularly the couple of people with whom I have been truly, passionately loving in my life in the extraordinarily ordinary way that I aspire to. If what I am working at is to be loving rather than 'in love' (see bell hooks' All About Love), then it's about an attitude I craft, not a flush of chemicals that I undergo.

Just because a person moves out of my life, then, doesn't mean that I get to shirk the responsibility of trying to be loving towards them. It means very practically that I don't get the opportunity to work at being loving with them, in company with them, on a daily basis, especially if, to the best of my knowledge, they continue to hate me or want nothing to do with me. Nevermind that they might live too many miles away to make it likely that we might ever bump into each other by accident. I still get to work at respecting them, to try to get to the point where the anger that we generated together is dissolved in my heart to become respect for where they happen to be, with whom they happen to be, how they happen to be. Who knows if time will talk any of us into being friends again? It takes a special alchemy for that to happen. There are days when I do believe in alchemy.

If you love someone, as the saying goes, let them go. If you are loving someone, let them be. As the anger, the hurt, the regret, the tragedies of the otherwise dissolve, so the possibilities for moving on open up. To sit with the anger, the hurt, the regret is to sit 'elsewhere', to disrespect what happens to be happening now, here, to de-presence myself, in that sense. And it's to disrespect the person (the people) with whom I once had a loving relationship, to reduce my relationship with them (now) to the arrogant distortions of my own personal versions of my memories of their (according to me) more toxic selves. People are more majestic than that, and I once esteemed the people I have felt aggrieved by to be more majestic than most, more worthy of my attentions, more likely to let me feel more alive.

To disappear down the boree hole of tortuous romantic past-lives is to suspend myself in webs of my own internal conversations. No need for me to do so. I can acknowledge my take on what has happened in my life, and I can celebrate those times in relationship, like the proposal, where I think I did well. And I can stand in that place of celebration and really appreciate the courage and love with which my sister and her beloved are walking forth together, working forth together, dreaming forth together. I wish them well, and wish them love, with every blessing.

And as I stand and celebrate them, I will also, with respect, celebrate the woman to whom I once proposed, and wish her well, and wish her love, with every blessing.


  • That's beautiful, Anthony. It might be the most moving thing I've read in a really long time about marriage...especially considering the not-so-happy place mine is in. I have more to say, but I need to think on it a bit.

    By Blogger Llij, at Friday, 13 July, 2007  

  • oh anthony.
    once again our lives and thinking run a bit parallel.
    i was told at one point by a mentor of mine that when things were the worst between christopher and myself that it was an opportunity to be the most loving to him, as he was in the process of making the worst decision of his life. it somehow helped me to let the whole thing go. i read shadows of that in your post. thank you for sending it to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, 13 July, 2007  

  • That was brilliant and beautiful. I find great similarities in your very mature attitude and the collective wisdom of aikido and Buddhism, which I try to incorporate into my life on a daily basis.

    By Blogger Nick, at Wednesday, 18 July, 2007  

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