Last night Debbie and I didn’t have a fight. Of course that’s a good thing. And it’s normal. It’s just that the opportunity presented itself to have a blowout. Old buttons were pushed, and neither of us allowed ourselves to be detonated. That’s some major consciousness happening. Right there in our dining room. In 2013. After forty-two years of marriage. Amazing. Still painful in some ways, but how liberating to experience the pain without blindly reacting to it. I believe I may be putting into practice some of the concepts about disturbance that I wrote about in my ethical will almost six years ago. As for Debbie, it may be fair to say that she’s probably been handling a lot more disturbance for a lot longer. Still, it takes two to tango or tangle, and I’d rather dance than fight. And we did, dance that is—we both hung in there admirably.
The challenge is that I have been launched into a period of advanced exploration of the uncharted reaches of my Universe, while Debbie dutifully takes her lunchbox to the office each morning not knowing in what orbit I will be spinning when she arrives home at night. I had never thought, and may still be incapable of thinking, just what that must be like for her. This is compounded by the differences in our underlying tendencies. Trying not to overstate it, I am a bit more inclined to foster change in my life than is Debbie. I must add quickly that which we sometimes fail to acknowledge—just because we have some contrasting propensities in this regard does not mean that Debbie is averse to change nor that I am all-embracing of it. She explores and grows in her life in the directions she chooses, at the pace that works for her, in the learning style that is uniquely hers, just as I uniquely do in mine. We are co-inhabitants in a vast continuum with many points in all directions well beyond the reach of either of us. From where we sit, looking at one another, we may at times fall prey to seeing the distance between us rather than how close together we are.
It is not unreasonable for Debbie to wonder about her place on the map when my process of discovery takes me to worlds she may not have planned to visit. We may wonder about what it would be like to have identical itineraries. Maybe that’s the attraction people have to travel—the opportunity, for at least a couple of days or weeks to literally be on the same journey. Funny that we do so little of that. Nonetheless, the nature of personal growth is such that even were we connected at the hip it’s likely that at times we would be on different paths, or at least in different places on the same path. Debbie expressed concerns about the divergence she experiences. That must be especially difficult at a time when she essentially puts one foot in front of the other as a diligent, determined, devoted, health care provider—a role she has long performed, understands well, and executes brilliantly. Meanwhile, I’m all over the map, trying to figure out who I am in this new phase of my post-corporate life, trying on new spiritual gurus, waging a Gulf War against my obesity (The banner read “Mission Accomplished,” but it’s only just begun!), finding myself propelled skyward with visions of great artistic achievements one day, and nervously scanning the Silicon Valley job listings the next. I can see where, for her, dealing with the San Mateo County bureaucracy and schizophrenic patients might seem easier!
For me, the path is uncertain, but at any given moment I can always say, “I’m here!” The next step is just one step away, just one. How scary can that be? Like Yogi said about the fork in the road—I just take it. Is it the right one? Have any of the steps I’ve taken in the past been proven by time to be right or wrong? Impossible to say. They are just steps on an indeterminate journey. Perhaps they will all make sense one day. This may be a definition of faith. The fact that Debbie and I, despite the divergences, have shared this journey for four decades is significant. Does that make the road ahead easier? In some important ways it does. We have learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We have become lovely dance partners in every sense. Yet there are always new steps to learn and they will always feel awkward if not impossible at each new beginning.
My greatest moment of clarity last night might have been when I said, essentially, that it’s easy to cherish those aspects of one another in which we experience congruence. To accept the inevitable incongruence, however, is much more challenging. To accept the totality of another, including those aspects that we may find difficult is a definition of love.