Love is perfect they say and I believe it. My imperfections didn’t turn your love away. Thankfully they didn’t disqualify me from receiving it. If I could be perfect, I surely would. I’d be more easier to love and more worthy too. But…. I am flawed and full of contradictions. My guess is that it goes both ways for us. That’s why we need perfect love, always. It is the energy that moves us to walk together, not lagging behind one another unless to admire, and not moving in front unless to open a door and show the way. Metaphorically, and for real, this perfect love is always reaching out for your hand. Whether near or far from view, we are together, side by side, no matter what circumstances gets strewn in our path. Sometimes, though, I may have to exert love’s energy a little more to reach for you. Sometimes you have to do the same for me. And in doing so we experience love’s energy, watching to see where it takes us next!
History talks. She reminds us and shows us things. “I am not here just so you can recount stuff,” she said to me out of the blue!
And the conversation began.
“Do you remember when you used to think your path would never end,” she asked?
“I do, all that walking and all I could think of was my sore back and feet,” I replied.
“You were always in a hurry back then,” she scolded.
And I didn’t learn much either, I thought. “I just wanted to get over there as fast as I could,” I said meekly. “Now it seems I want to slow ‘er down a bit.”
These days I’ve been living and walking in the older version of me, in what now seems as though weeks are like days and the minutes have shrunk to seconds. I no longer want to hurry. I want to smell the air, hear the rustling leaves, even taste the earth.
“Well, you look much better, connected to the moment when you walk a little slower, don’t you?” History chided. I thought she was making fun of my gait. It’s true I am 57 years and I am not prepared to believe that I am that old either.
“Too bad time slowly washes us wrinkly white and we come out looking perpetually tired like a piece of driftwood,” I laughed.
“Why? It’s not all that bad. I like it when I see you stopping more,” History added with kindness. “Yes, that’s looks better on you.”
“Well, I guess I am letting things happen more. I don’t have to judge each moment like before. It’s like I can relax, stop and take it all in, the good parts and the boring bits.”
“Like the seals and whales,” History asked?
I remembered this history, to how I heard my traveling partner, Patricia, shrill with joy, “Seals!”
“Seals, really?” I stopped the car quickly.
And I glanced and I saw them too, those silvery grey wonders dancing on the waters of the Baie des Chaleurs. The doors opened as two humans crossed the road. I was running with my iPad in hand, and I jumped the fence and started filming those bopping seals. There I was, happy, all the while giving a running commentary.
“Ha! Seals!” I said confidently, “Look at them!” I continued while squinting my eyes against the bright sun, “See how lucky am I! God thank you, thank you! You knew how much this would mean to me.”
My traveling partner had her phone out recording too. Was she recording me? We had both watched long and hard for this, hours of travel along the coastline. It was either whales or seals we longed to see. And then after a few minutes, yes that long, I noticed the seals were not seals. I laughed to myself now knowing they were some sea birds bobbing for fish. I deleted my video, not in the least disappointed. It was the moment that counted.
And I have to admit that this story was repeated twice. Yep, it was actually the second silly moment of that day. This was the trip we saw seals and whales. And both times I deleted both videos and my commentary with it. It was really kind of funny.
History spoke up while chuckling at me, “You won’t forget this trip, will you? Those bird-seals and the rock-whales. However, the thing you should always remember is how you let the moments happen.”
I promised History to try and remember the lesson.
When I turned back towards the car and saw the happy eyes of my beloved traveling partner, they too reminded my heart. We were both learning to let things happen, no disappointment and without judgment. “It was not to be,” she said, “You always find what you look for, right?”
“Right,” I answered! “Let’s keep letting the moment happen.”
“And finding the seals and whales and the beauty of the moment,” she added.
Heaven surely must have laughed out loud as she looked down on us that day and wondered where we got our wisdom. You could say hearing History start up a conversation with me played a role in slowing us down.
I tried one of those short colored background posts on Facebook. It was a marriage post and it went like this:
“It started when beauty captured you 😚 You married 😍 You saw flaws 🤨 Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”
It didn’t take long for the first comments to arrive, “Peter, are you okay?” My wife jumped in quickly to explain all was well with us and that I was simply preparing to speak at a marriage. The thread gave me and others a good laugh. Not as hilarious, though, is that I can attest also to the truth of my 86 character/ post including the emojis.
“It started when beauty captured you 😚
I fell hard for Patricia, she was so clever, had a great sense of humour, was athletic and her build reflected it. Not to mention her black shiny hair on her white freckled face, it all captured me. I joke with her about the time we decided to go to the indoor pool and I saw her in a bathing suit for the first time. My mouth dropped to the floor, hubba hubba, this was my girl! And we had so much fun finding ways to be together in a school where holding hands was considered too much contact!
You married 😍
We did. We were passionate. We couldn’t wait for the day to hear the bells ring. I graduated from college. We married a week later. We were twenty.
You saw flaws 🤨
Too many couples call it quits because they begin to focus on the negatives. Patricia and I eventually lived out this scenario for a long stretch of time. I began to notice it, slowly, during our years in Thailand. (They are not years that we look back on fondly.) Patricia wasn’t happy being there. I told her that we would stay no matter what. It was the stubborn dutch blood in me speaking! And besides God told us to go there! We were obeying the call! That strong-arming approach did not help and I wasn’t listening to her heart. Her respect for me, as I went globetrotting around Southeast Asia to ‘serve the Lord’ and others, plummeted. I began to see her simmering anger in the forms of complaints and quick mood changes. At times it exploded all over me with shorter and fewer peaceful times in between.
You may have heard the axiom that says you will always see what you are looking for. For my part I become adept to seeing the unlikable in my chosen partner. “Why is she so angry all the time? Why did she look at me like that? Can’t she ever be happy?” I got good at seeing what I was looking for and saw it all the time. Perhaps she did the same for me. I’ll let her tell her side of the story another time. Yes, our eyesight focused on the negatives, the flaws, and it became a deeply imbedded mindset that slanted towards the negative.
Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”
The good Lord has seen it fit to keep the both of us on this planet into our fifties. You can guess already by context that we are still together! I attribute that to two things; 1. my stubborn Dutch roots that went down deep enough to hang on to my wedding day commitment, and 2. fear. I thought I would lose everything I loved; my work and reputation. Ugh!!!
But we said those words, “Till death do us part…” That required an ungodly amount of stubbornness! And it called for hours and hours of long hard talks. Neither one of us really thought that killing each other was a good option, though we joked that it was the only way we would leave each other! So what other options were there? Option One was the hard one: stick it out. There were days – long ones where our emotions ran amuck and this option was stifling, at best, and completely joyless. We lost the beauty of Pete and Pat! We lost sight of each other. The raising of five kids in a polluted Bangkok crammed with cars, motorbikes and taxis didn’t help. The daily grind was grinding our love to smithereens. We forgot what made us fall in love. And we started not caring. “Oh God is this my life?”
Our tiny daughter Amanda mouthed this phrase (mimicking what she had heard her mother say over and over) “Oh God is this my life” one day while play acting with her two dolls. Our life. Patricia longed for a better life. Years of resentment were eating her soul and identity. The lack of perspective, positivity and joy darkened the majority of her days with a blasé going-through-the-motions. Often I heard the words,”Oh God is this my life?” I felt it keenly.
The kids felt it too. Amanda could repeat her words perfectly with the same tone. And I resented the joylessness of my option, stick it out. I would do it. I didn’t like where we were headed. But I would be a martyr if called for.
My facebook post didn’t allow me to add more characters. But there is an Option Two: Change the way you see.
When you have tried digging yourself out of a hole that only got deeper with each shovel full change seems, well, pretty darn impossible. I know that feeling! We tried some digging with counselling. It helped some. But we found ourselves back in the hole again. Bouts of anger still flared, yes, less and less, but still some scary moments. Distance between us, like a phlegmatic sea and its uneven rhythms, increased and decreased and increased again. It’s hard to change.
But not impossible.
You may be reading this and asking for the key to, “How did you change?” Yes, the key. More like hours of honestly looking at ourselves and then hours looking for the good in each other. Hours of being miserable and not wanting to repeat that. And one of the turning points, a key, was to go way back, try and graciously remember the initial attraction, those things that captured us in love’s grasp in the first place. When we never wanted to escape.
Those attractive things hadn’t disappeared completely. Our skin, of course, wasn’t as vibrantly taut and our hair began to thin and grey, but we were still essentially the same inside. We were different versions of the same. It was hidden for a long time from our eyes under expectation, resentment and indifference, but it could be resurrected! Our keen eyesight for the negative caused us blindness for too long. We dealt with the resentment and the anger and the indifference and stubborn selfishness. Slowly we rediscovered the beauty of each other. It rekindled a joy. This sounds simple. It is. But it’s not easy. And it took us a lot of time.
So my short little Facebook post was not so much prompted by preparing to officiate at a marriage as my wife suggested. I was thinking about some couples I know going through staggering storms. I stand with you and the many couples who wonder if it is possible for two people in our day and age to stay together until ‘death do us part.‘ I’d like to shout to you and them, “We made it through many storms, you can too!” Hope you can find some honesty and hope for you in this blog.
Some of you cannot turn the page. “It is finished” is written on your marital story. There are probably good reasons for that. For Patricia and I, we are glad that we are still writing chapters as a couple. We had to learn to move past the flaw seeking and look again at what made us fall in love in the first place. We had to forgive and then bury the awful, and learn from the lean years so we could again be that couple that laughs, talks about everything and nothing, and loves into the sunset.
I was at the gym yesterday and a couple of the guys, one older and one younger than me, were chatting about marriage. The younger guy was complaining about not getting to the gym more often because of being married now. The older fellow, divorced, said he didn’t have that problem anymore. The younger guy said he realized love is like caffein, at first it is strong and then the effects dissipates. The older guy just said life is so much easier for him to have a girlfriend. You know, friends with benefits. As I am listening I felt like it was time to give my take on this subject. I said in french, “Guys, my story is completely different, mind if if I share it?” They said, “Bien sûr.”
So I began surprising myself with how much passion was coming from my lips. I spoke these words a little louder than I hoped, “I was married at twenty years of age and still am, and, may I add, with the same woman. Has it been hard at times? You bet! In fact, excruciatingly difficult at times.” I think I repeated the french word ‘difficile’ a couple of times! “But now we are in our 35th year and I can tell you we are glad we withstood the storms. I am not wanting to make either of you feel anything negative or guilty about your story, but I just needed to tell you that there are alternative stories to the all too common one of marital breakup. It is possible to work out the most difficult of relationships when both sides are willing.”
It got a little quiet. And I’m not sure if my story accomplished anything positive. I just wish there were more stories like mine. I am sure there are many waiting to be told, maybe yours! Maybe more marriages could be rescued and more would persevere through those times that are ‘difficile,’ if we just weren’t so afraid to actually tell them.